girls health

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Young Girls Afraid To Gain Weight And Get Fat, Study Finds

mikebaird/flickr

mikebaird/flickr

A smart, health-conscious mom I know just drew the line: she’s going to stop reading “Grain Brain” — the compelling, controversial, potentially crazy-making new book that details the evils of carbs in general and grains in particular. She, and so many others, initially loved the book, which argues that carbs, even the whole grain variety, can “destroy” your brain and “cause demential, ADHA, anxiety” and more.

The problem, says this mom (beyond the what-can-I-possibly-pack-the-kids-for-lunch-with-no-grains dilemma), is that all the chatter about “bad foods” around her daughters might possibly increase their chances of developing an eating disorder.

This rang true to me as I came across this recent U.K. study on eating disorders in early adolescence.

Researchers from University College London Institute of Child Health and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that “six in 10 13-year-old girls, compared to four in 10 boys the same age, are afraid of gaining weight or getting fat.” And it got worse when the young teenage girls got a bit older, notes the report, published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The bottom line results, according to the study of more than 7,000 13-year-olds: “Extreme levels of fear of weight gain, avoidance of fattening foods, and distress about weight and shape were common among girls.”

Here’s more from the study, according to the news release:

•One in three girls (34%) and one in five boys (21%) were upset or distressed about weight and shape

•One in two girls (53%) and four in 10 boys (41%) avoided fatty foods

•A quarter of girls (26%) and one in seven boys (14.5%) had restricted their food intake (by fasting, skipping meals or throwing away food) in the previous three months Continue reading

TV Message To Tween Girls: ‘Do Anything, Just Be Attractive’

My 8-year-old daughter recently rose at the crack of dawn to wash her naturally wavy hair so it wouldn’t be “puffy” for a school assembly. She’d previously begged to have it straightened. Did I mention she’s 8?

While we all work diligently to tell our daughters how smart and strong and brave they are — and de-emphasize looks as much as possible — it’s a jungle out there when it comes to girls and self-image. A new study by U.S. researchers published in the journal Sex Roles reaffirms the uphill battle parents face. Here’s the headline: “Looks are all important for girls on tween TV.” And the not-so-subtle messaging, according to the researchers: “Girls can participate in everything that boys can, but while doing so they should be attractive.”

To arrive at this sad but not terribly surprising conclusion, Ashton Lee Gerding of the University of Missouri and Nancy Signorielli of the University of Delaware, reviewed “gender ideals” as conveyed by American television programs geared toward tweens ages 8-12.

Here’s what they found, from the news release:

Characters in 49 episodes of 40 distinct American tween television programs aired in 2011 on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, and the Turner Cartoon Network were analyzed in terms of their attractiveness, gender-related behavior, and personality characteristics such as bravery and handiness with technology. Two specific genres were examined: teen scene (geared towards girls) and action-adventure (geared towards boys).

girls watching tv

…Overall, compared to males, females were portrayed as more attractive, more concerned about their appearance, and received more comments about their looks. Females were presented similarly in both genres. Overall, males were shown in varying levels of attractiveness, and were portrayed as more stereotypically brave in the action adventure genre.

A critical finding was that tween programs still portray females as more attractive and more concerned about their appearance than males. Continue reading

Girls And Early Puberty: Is It More Than Just Obesity?

An important new study of young girls has determined that childhood obesity is most likely the key driver behind the disturbing, and now widely acknowledged, phenomenon of girls starting puberty at a younger age.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, tracked the breast development (thelarche) of girls ages 6-8 in three geographic regions of the U.S. — San Francisco, Cincinnati and New York City.

According to the report, “girls with greater BMI reached breast stage 2 [development] at younger ages.” Ethnicity, too, was an important factor: The “median age at onset of breast stage 2 was 8.8, 9.3, 9.7, and 9.7 years for African American, Hispanic, white non-Hispanic, and Asian participants, respectively,” researchers report. The bottom line:

We observed the onset of thelarche at younger ages than previously documented, with important differences associated with race/ethnicity and BMI, confirming and extending patterns seen previously. These findings are consistent with temporal changes in BMI.

In an accompanying editorial, “The Enigmatic Pursuit of Puberty in Girls,” Marcia. E. Herman-Giddens, of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, raises an important question, that is, what else, beyond obesity, might be to blame? “Extensive interacting variables are known to be associated with earlier development in addition to weight and genetics,” she writes, noting a long list of possibilites, including “certain intrauterine conditions and exposures, preschool high-meat diets, dairy products, low fiber intake, isoflavones, high-stress families, absent fathers, certain endocrine disruptors, the microbiome as it influences weight, epigenetics, light exposure, hormone-laced hair products, insulin resistance, activity level, geographical location, and others.”

(Yves Hanoulle/flickr)

(Yves Hanoulle/flickr)

Indeed, the study’s conclusions, as in so much of research, aren’t completely satisfying, particularly for any mother who has surreptitiously surveyed her daughter’s elementary school and seen breasts clearly budding on second, third and fourth grade girls, who happen not to be obese.

I know, I know, my little scan around the playground means pretty much nothing when it comes to figuring out what’s going on in the population. But it certainly seems like there may be more to this trend than simply the spike in obesity — though that clearly plays a role. (Also, is it still merely a “trend” when it’s on the cover of The New York Times Magazine?)

I asked Diane E. J. Stafford, MD, with the Division of Endocrinology at Children’s Hospital Boston for her initial take on the Pediatrics study and editorial. Here’s are seven (lightly edited) points she made, via email:

1. This supports the previous studies that imply that the “normal” age for puberty may be younger than had been previously documented. It is more helpful in that it was a prospective longitudinal study so it followed the same children over time rather than extrapolating from a cross-sectional study.

2. It is very interesting and, in my opinion, not surprising that those with an increased BMI may be more likely to progress to puberty earlier. I think we have all felt that this was likely be associated. However, “the data support, but do not establish, causality.” This is an important caveat and one that will not likely be brought out in the general conversation about this study.

3. There are very likely to be many influences on the timing of puberty, but most of them cannot be easily measured on a population basis, if at all. The assumption of this and other population based studies is that the various other influences (like genetics) are spread evenly throughout the population and “come out in the wash”, making obesity the “largest driver” on a population basis. A reasonable conclusion for a large population, but not for an individual. Continue reading

‘Thigh Gap’: Reflections On Teenage Girls’ Latest Obsession

By Sylvia Pagan Westphal
Guest Contributor

A few weeks ago, my 13-year-old daughter brought up the issue of the “thigh gap.”

A thigh-what? I thought. I Googled it and was appalled by the latest teenage girl obsession: having ultra-skinny thighs, so much so that one can see a space in between them when feet are touching (hence, the gap) is a trait many teenagers now covet. Of course, for many, this idealized gap is physically impossible to attain. (Still, I must admit to checking in the closet mirror to see if I had one.)

topgold/flickr, creative commons

topgold/flickr, creative commons

I was relieved when my daughter said she found the trend unhealthy. At the same time, she said, it’s unavoidable.

“You hear about it from your friends, it just travels,” she says. “Usually when you first find out about the thigh gap, the normal instinct is to Google it and one of the things that comes up is Tumblr and you get these crazy blogs on how to get a thigh gap and how to diet so you get it.”

(It’s true, some of these sites are a parent’s nightmare, from Cara’s Thigh Gap on twitter, which I’m not even linking to it because of the inappropriate content, to less-bad-but-still-troubling Operation Thigh Gap. Even this level-headed wiki-how is anxiety-producing, in that it confirms the ubiquity of the trend.)

It’s a tough world out there for our teens. We bombard them with conflicting messages to stay fit and be healthy (see Michelle Obama) while at the same time asking them not to get too neurotic about their body image. Some of us mothers send mixed messages too. What matters is how beautiful you are on the inside, we tell them, yet we work out and order salads for dinner Continue reading

Quick, What’s The Girl’s Sport Most Linked To Catastrophic Injuries?

Considering lacrosse for my 7-year-old I imagined the worst: head injuries, a fracture or two, an inevitable trip to the ER.

But it turns out there’s another girls sport I should be even more worried about: cheerleading.

heraldpost/flickr

heraldpost/flickr

The Washington Post reports that cheerleading ranks number one when it comes to risky sports for girls, accounting for more than half of catastrophic injuries to female athletes. Here’s a snippet:

With or without government regulation, cheerleading poses by far the greatest risk of catastrophic injury to young female participants of any sport. According to a 2012 report and policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, cheerleading “accounted for 65 percent of all direct catastrophic injuries to girl athletes at the high school level and 70.8 percent at the college level” between 1982 and 2009.

The overall number is small — 110 closed-head injuries, skull fractures and cervical spine injuries that resulted in “permanent brain injury, paralysis or death” over that period — and the number of participants in cheerleading is large, an estimated 3.6 million nationwide, the academy found. (A number of other girls suffered cardiac problems and heat stroke.) But the disproportionate number of severe injuries in this one activity is striking.

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Despite Mounting Evidence, High School Girls Keep Tanning

(valerieyermal/flickr)

You’re surely aware of all of the information out there clearly explaining why tanning salons are absolutely, unquestionably not a good idea?

Evidently, young America has yet to get the memo.

As a new report from JAMA Internal Medicine found:

Among non-Hispanic white female high school students, 29.3% engaged in indoor tanning and 16.7% engaged in frequent indoor tanning during the previous 12 months. The prevalence of indoor tanning and frequent indoor tanning increased with age.

These numbers  – about 1/3 of high schoolers tanning within the past year — are surprisingly static. A study done by the CDC in 2010 also found about a third of young white women reported indoor tanning.

What’s going amiss? I talked to Emily Colson, a high school senior in South Carolina whose experience closely mirrors the study’s findings. She first started using tanning beds as a freshman, relying on them for occasions with high expectations, like prom and the first week of summer. “I don’t like being pale or being pasty – I think I look a lot better when I’m tanner,” she said. Continue reading

Study: Teen Girls Who Exercise Have Lower Risk Of Violent Behavior

A few years back, an acquaintance told me that one of the few mandates he imposed on his daughter was that she play a sport regularly, whether she liked it or not. At the time, I thought it was a bit harsh. But now, with a ‘tween daughter of my own who is happiest curled up on a comfy chair reading, and sometimes needs a nudge to run around, I totally get it.

Girls need to move for so many reasons, among them, mental clarity, physical fitness and confidence, and simply to learn that their own bodies can bring them immense joy. Now, add another benefit to the list: it keeps them out of trouble.

(Rohan Reid/flickr)

(Rohan Reid/flickr)

Researchers from Columbia University in New York report that teenage girls from inner-city neighborhoods who exercised regularly were less likely to carry a gun and engage in violent behavior and activities.

Here are some of the findings, from the Columbia news release:

–Females who exercised more than 10 days in the last month had decreased odds of being in a gang.
–Those who did more than 20 sit-ups in the past four weeks had decreased odds of carrying a weapon or being in a gang.
–Females reporting running more than 20 minutes the last time they ran had decreased odds of carrying a weapon.
–Those who participated in team sports in the past year had decreased odds of carrying a weapon, being in a fight or being in a gang.
Continue reading