Teen Pregnancy May Be Associated With Obesity Risk in Later Life

Written by yvonnethornton on August 1st, 2013

Concern about the increased prevalence in teen pregnancies has raised a lot of questions societally as well as within the medical community. It is no secret that an event such as childbirth can play a large role in a woman’s health, and the potential changes that may take place are increased in a teenager, whose body is still growing and changing throughout adolescence. From very real concerns such as the potential for premature delivery to the psychological effects of becoming a mother at a very young age or giving a child up for adoption, there is much fodder for examination and research.

One study has even suggested that there is a potential association between adolescent pregnancy and obesity later in life. However, it is important to note that this association is still vague at best, and researchers have yet to uncover a cause for this heightened obesity risk.   While it is possible that the associations between adolescent pregnancy and obesity is caused by the physiological changes that take place in the female body (and in particular the adolescent female body) during pregnancy, there are also many factors –primarily psychological and sociological—to take into consideration in order to determine the underlying cause of this association.  I believe that these young women, obese or not obese, gain so much weight when they are pregnant that obesity is the result of the pregnancy and they cannot lose the weight postpartum, given the additional responsibilities of raising a child.

Demographically speaking, adolescent mothers are more likely to be from a racial minority, to have lived in poverty, or to have attained a lower educational level than many of their peers. Four out of five black women are either overweight or obese.  It is highly likely that at least part of the association between adolescent pregnancy and weight gain is due to this “crossover”, as women of these demographics are also those most likely to be classed as overweight or obese. This is part of the difficulty in determining whether or not there are other physiological factors to take into account.

My take on the conclusions of this study and the entire situation of pregnant adolescents  and future obesity is that these young women are looking for acceptance and have very low self-esteem.  Their feelings are exploited by their male counterparts, who have a biological imperative to be intimate and not be rebuffed. Consequently, sexual intercourse is a form of being “accepted” and “loved”, only to find out later that the girl is pregnant, has gained excessive weight during the pregnancy and is now alone being responsible for a new life.  Her old habits (no exercise and cheap fast food) with a low or nonexistent income lead to her obesity and that of her child.  Then, it becomes a vicious cycle.

Regardless of the reasons for the prevalence of overweight and obese women among those who were pregnant as teenagers, studies like these highlight the importance of increased contraceptive aid and sexual education among female adolescents. At present, it seems that the primary association between these two groups of women, i.e.,  those who become pregnant as teenagers and those who are classed as overweight or obese in adulthood,  is a lack of education or awareness about their bodies.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.



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