Women who are overweight at the age of 18 have a higher risk of dying young

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Researchers in the U.S. are suggesting that women who are overweight at the age of 18 have a higher risk of dying young.

Children and adolescents in the U.S. and around the world are becoming more overweight and according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) there may be serious consequences to that trend.

Rob van Dam, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and the lead author, found that in a study of 102,400 female nurses in the Nurses' Health Study II, a prospective study launched in 1989, that being overweight at age 18 is associated with an increased risk of premature death in younger and middle-aged women.

The study showed that women who were overweight or obese when 18, drank more alcohol, smoked more and were less likely to exercise as teens and were also more likely to die between the ages of 36 and 56.

The researchers say the more a women weighed at 18, the greater her risk of dying young; women who were moderately overweight at 18 were more than 50 percent more likely to die in the 12 years of follow-up, and obese women were more than twice as likely to die, as the slimmest 18-year-olds.

Rob van Dam says the findings support other studies on overweight in middle-aged and older populations by providing insight into the impact of adolescent overweight on adult mortality.

At the outset study participants who were all aged 24 to 44, recorded their current height and weight and their weight at age 18.

Researchers calculated body mass index (BMI) and participants also gave information on disease history, alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise.

Follow-up questionnaires were sent to participants until July 1, 2001, or to the date of death, whichever came first.

It was found that women with a higher BMI at 18 consumed more alcohol, smoked more and were less likely to engage in vigorous physical activity during adolescence.

During the 12-year follow-up period from 1989 to 2001, 710 participants died, and it was seen that the women died of various causes; 258 died of cancer, 55 of heart disease or stroke and 61 committed suicide.

Sadly it seems that even women who had never smoked were more likely to die if they were overweight as 18-year-olds.

Frank Hu an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and a co-author of the study says the study highlights the importance of efforts to prevent excessive weight gain in children, not only to prevent obesity but also to prevent moderate overweight.

The study is published in the July 18, 2006 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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