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Health Capsules
February 2007
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Pre-Teen Girls at Risk for Extra Pounds

Girls in their “tween” years—the ages of 9-12—are especially vulnerable to excess weight gain and related health risks that may continue into adulthood, according to a recent study.  Helping girls in this at-risk age group to eat well and keep active may prevent weight-related problems in the years to come.

Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the U.S.  Since 1980, the percentage of overweight youth, ages 6-19, has more than tripled.  Several studies are under way to better understand how and when childhood weight gain arises.

The latest results come from an NIH-funded study that enrolled more than 2,300 girls, ages 9-10, and followed them for more than a decade.  The study showed that girls were far more likely to become overweight at 9-12 years of age than in later adolescence.  Excess weight brought cardiovascular risks, like higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, even in some 9-year-old girls.

The researchers also found that weight problems were likely to persist.  Compared to their non-overweight counterparts, girls who were overweight during childhood were 11-30 times more likely to be obese as young adults.  In addition, there were differences between African-American and Caucasian girls, with black girls 1.5 times more likely to become overweight at any given age than white girls.

This study highlights the importance of helping girls as young as 9 maintain a healthy weight.  Because African-American girls were at greater risk for weight gain, the results also suggest that obesity prevention efforts need to take into account cultural differences. 

Definitions iconDefinition

The system of heart and vessels that circulates blood throughout the body.

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  Short of Breath? It May Be COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a growing epidemic, affecting 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 45.  A serious lung disease that often goes undiagnosed, COPD is the 4th leading cause of death and 2nd leading cause of disability in the U.S. 

Although COPD has readily recognizable symptoms, about 12 million Americans may have COPD but not realize it.  Proper diagnosis and treatment can enhance and prolong life.  That’s why NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is working to get the word out about COPD, especially among those who are at greatest risk for the disease.

COPD sometimes goes by other names, like emphysema or chronic bronchitis.  It arises when airways in the lungs become partly blocked, making it harder to breathe.  Symptoms include constant coughing that produces lots of mucus, wheezing and shortness of breath.  When COPD is severe, breathing difficulties can get in the way of even the most basic activities, like doing housework, taking a walk and even bathing and getting dressed.

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD, although as many as 1 in 6 people with the disease have never smoked.  If you’ve had long-term exposure to lung-irritating chemicals or secondhand smoke, you may also be at risk.  Even without such exposure, some people may develop COPD if they’ve inherited certain genes.

A quick and easy test in your doctor’s office can determine if you have COPD, even before symptoms become severe.  The test, called spirometry, measures the amount of air you can blow out of your lungs, and how fast you can blow it.  If you’re at risk for COPD and have even mild symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

Several treatments—ranging from inhaled medications to physical activity—can reduce COPD symptoms.  By working with your doctor, you can take steps to make breathing easier and live a longer, more active life.

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Mind Over Matter

A series to help young people in grades 5-9 understand the effects of drug abuse on the body and brain.  They can learn about the effects of specific drugs and drug groups including stimulants, hallucinogens, inhalants, marijuana, opiates, nicotine, methamphetamine and steroids.

From NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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