Study: Heavy teenagers engage in risky behavior

The teenage years are awkward ones.  It’s the time when kids are figuring out who they are, exploring new things, and trying to fit in with friends.  It’s never been easy to be a teenager, but some might say it’s tougher to be a teenager these days than it was a decade ago.

A new government funded study looked at risky behavior in teens, specifically teenagers that were obese.

“This group of teens is understudied, and we wanted to know if obese teens were more likely to engage in risky behavior than their slimmer classmates.” says study researcher Meg H. Zeller, PhD, at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

Study findings:
*Extremely obese girls were about twice as likely as slimmer students to try cigarettes.
*Extremely obese boys were about 50% more likely than their normal-weight counterparts to try cigarettes or to have started smoking before age 13.
*Although heavy girls were about half as likely as their slimmer peers to have ever had sex, when they did have intercourse, they were nearly five times more likely to do so under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The results came from more than 9,000 teen surveys that were sent out looking at various behavior ranging from sex to drug use.

Researchers say more studies are needed in this field, but say there are signs of social isolation with obese teenagers.  That isolation could be one of the factors that push overweight teens to experiment with risky behavior.  Zeller said the concept of fitting in is important at that age, and should be studied in connection with behavior in the future.

Facts about teen obesity:
*17% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese.
*Obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults.
*If overeating begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.
*Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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