Outlook: Obesity

NOVEMBER 16, 2011

Peer Mentors Can Help Curb Teen Obesity

When it comes to diet and physical activity, adolescents prefer that education and mentoring targeting obesity be delivered by their peers in a school setting.

In a study published in the October 2011 issue of Childhood Obesity, a team of New York–based researchers evaluated the HealthCorps model at 6 intervention schools and compared the results with those from 6 control schools.

HealthCorps is a school-based obesity prevention program that seeks to provide education about physical fitness and nutrition for minority, low-income, and inner-city students at high risk for developing obesity while encouraging them to lead a healthier lifestyle. The program is led by trained recent college graduates.

According to the study, the HealthCorps model proved to be particularly effective in lowering soda consumption, resulting in a 13% overall decrease among the participants, a 25.7% reduction among girls in particular, and a 35.7% reduction among girls who completed the HealthCorps program. Furthermore, students who completed the program were 45% more likely to report that they were more physically active than in the previous year.

“Peer educators hold promise for improving high school students’ diets and physical activity,” the researchers concluded.

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, stated that the results “are important and encouraging. They suggest that peer mentoring can be part of the solution to the serious problem of teen obesity and related ill-health by modifying behaviors.”


Increased Body Fat Raises Hypertension Risk in Children

Children who are overweight are nearly 3 times more likely to develop hypertension than those at a normal weight, according to a 5-year study of more than 1100 Indiana students.

The study, which is published in the October issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, revealed that when the children’s body mass index (BMI) reached or passed the 85th percentile, the adiposity effect on blood pressure was more than 4 times that of normal weight children.

“Higher blood pressure in childhood sets the stage for high blood pressure in adulthood,” said lead author Wanzhu Tu, PhD, of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “Targeted interventions are needed for these children. Even small decreases in BMI could yield major health benefits.”

Among study participants, 14% of the blood pressure measurements from overweight/obese children were at prehypertensive or hypertensive levels, compared with 5% in normal weight children. Blood levels of leptin and heart rate demonstrated a pattern similar to blood pressure, leading authors to conclude that leptin may play a mediating role in obesity-induced blood pressure elevation.

“The adiposity effects on blood pressure in children are not as simple as we thought,” Dr. Tu said. “Important questions that remain unanswered are what makes the blood pressure go up when you have an increase in the BMI percentile and what mechanisms are involved in the process.”


Asthma Risk Higher in Children Born to Overweight Mothers

Children of mothers who are overweight or obese when they become pregnant are more likely to experience asthma or wheezing as adolescents, according to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Analysis of data from nearly 7000 adolescents aged 15 and 16 years who were born in northern Finland showed that high maternal BMI prior to pregnancy was a significant predictor of wheezing.

For the study, Swatee Patel, PhD, of the University of Greenwich in London, and colleagues questioned mothers at 12 weeks into pregnancy about their lifestyle, social background, and educational achievements, and recorded their height and weight.

High maternal pre-pregnancy weight was shown to increase the odds of current wheeze in adolescents by 20%; after adjusting for potential confounders, the risk increased. Similar results were found in adolescents with asthma, according to the study.

“Our research has shown that overweight or obese women who become pregnant are more likely to have children who suffer from asthma or wheeze in their teenage years,” said Dr. Patel, noting that the heaviest mothers were 47% more likely to have children with severe wheezing compared with normal weight mothers.

“Our findings suggest that being overweight may interfere with normal fetal development as a result of disrupted metabolic or hormonal activity. This could partly contribute toward the rising rates of chronic asthma suffered by children. These new findings add to a long list of damaging effects of obesity, not only in the mothers but in their children,” she said. PT

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