Women are already ‘on track’ towards obesity by early 20s

A woman’s weight gain trajectory is established in her early 20s, say Australian researchers, who are urging GPs to steer patients into early behavioural change to avoid obesity in later life.

A study following nearly 5000 healthy Australian women for 16 years has found 29% became overweight and one in 10 became obese, according to University of Queensland research.

The findings, presented at the 24th European Congress on Obesity in Portugal, suggest the rate of weight gain among 18-23-year-old women sets a trend for those more likely to become overweight or obese by the time they are 40.

“Weight gain trajectories appear to be established early in young adulthood and are characterised by distinct and fairly constant rates of weight gain at this life stage,” the researchers write.

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The study found the highest risk of developing high BMI was associated with being divorced, separated, widowed or smoking more than ten cigarettes a day.

These women could be a “priority target group” for GPs as their weight gain remained “remarkably consistent” over the study period, the researchers say.

“Closer monitoring of weight gain, which often goes unnoticed and is difficult to reverse later, could identify women who are ‘on track’ to become overweight or obese,” the authors suggest.

On average, women who maintained a healthy BMI gained 0.19kg a year, while women who later became overweight gained, on average, more than four times that amount.

Highly educated women were 50% more likely to stay at a healthy weight, as were women exercising at moderate-to-high intensity.

The researchers suggest that examining the lifestyle factors of the majority (60%) of women who maintained a healthy BMI may provide clues to obesity prevention.

“Understanding the individual characteristics that enabled them to do this in the face of current obesogenic environments could help address one of the most important contemporary public health challenges: obesity prevention,” they conclude. 

More Infomation:

American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2017; online

Australian Doctor Education is running clinical seminars on Cardio-Metabolic Disease: Strategies for Success in Brisbane (27 May), Sydney (3 June) and Melbourne (17 June). If you would like to register for these seminars and hear from leading obesity experts, endocrinologists and cardiologists about evidence-based strategies for preventing and managing cardio-metabolic disease in primary care, click here.