July, 2010

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Obesity and early puberty

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

A new study confirms what earlier studies have found: girls who are obese begin puberty earlier.

With childhood obesity approaching an epidemic, early puberty is becoming more common. There appears to be a critical weight for girls, above which the body starts its journey to womanhood with thelarche (breast buds), pubarche (pubic and axillary hair) and finally, menarche (onset of menses).   So, in general, the heavier a young girl is, the earlier the onset of her secondary sexual characteristics.

While we don’t know all the possible consequences of early puberty, we know that puberty is a time of emotional turmoil. For a younger child, that’s going to be more difficult.

We also know that youngsters have a great need to feel like they fit in and the combination of obesity and early puberty can punch a hole in a young girl’s self-esteem.

So, watch the eating habits of your whole family, and help your children make good choices –  just as you make healthier choices for yourself. As I’ve said before, when it comes to battling the bulge, I’ve been there, so I know it’s a struggle. But maintaining a healthy weight is essential, for everyone.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Dance Your Way to Fitness?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I read a press release the other day from the University of Illinois at Chicago where researcher David Marquez is conducting a study. He plans to get older Latinos out on the dance floor to determine whether doing the mambo, merengue and cha-cha-cha will help them stay fit, and perhaps avoid obesity, diabetes and other ills of a sedentary lifestyle.

While the results won’t yet be in for a while, I whole-heartedly endorse the premise. A number of years ago, I had gained a lot of weight, was overworked and was getting little exercise. Then I signed up for ballroom dancing classes. Not only did I have a blast (winning a dance contest along the way), but I whittled down my waistline while doing it.  Other studies have shown that ballroom dancing can also benefit your mental fitness and decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

So, if you’re bored with exercise machines, and if jogging just isn’t your thing, put on your dancing shoes and go. Unless your doctor advises against physically challenging activity, I can’t think of a better, more fun-filled fitness routine.

See you on the dance floor.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Overweight or Obese? Don’t Count On Your Birth Control Pills.

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Since the pill first appeared on the scene, about 50 years ago, women have felt secure knowing that they had an almost foolproof way to avoid unwanted pregnancies. And that’s been mostly true.

But maybe not for all women.

If you’re overweight or obese, recent studies suggest that birth control pills might not be as effective for you as they are for more slender women:

“In one study of oral contraceptive pills, women with a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight range (a BMI of 25 or more) had a higher risk of pregnancy that those in the normal weight range. In another study of contraceptive skin patches, higher body weight — not higher BMI — was associated with higher risks of pregnancy.”

In addition to the sobering news about the lessened effectiveness of hormonal birth control, these birth control methods are thought to slightly increase a woman’s risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and other conditions. When you consider that overweight and obese women are already at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and other ills, and that pregnancy is a riskier venture, overall, for obese women and their babies, you have a new incentive for getting your weight down.

I know it isn’t easy. I’ve struggled with weight myself and can attest to the fact that it’s a constant battle. But it’s a battle we must fight – and win. And now, we have one more reason to do it.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Pre-existing condition? No longer a problem.

Friday, July 9th, 2010

After all the hoopla, once healthcare reform was signed into law earlier this year, it didn’t immediately seem like much had changed. Most of the provisions of the new healthcare bill aren’t slated to take effect for a few years yet.

But there’s one provision, an all-important one for people who have been denied health insurance in the past, that could be a lifesaver.

And it takes effect this summer.

You can now get health insurance – good comprehensive coverage – if you’ve previously been turned down due to a pre-existing condition. Your new insurance will cover that pre-existing condition along with your other medical needs. Perhaps best of all, according to law, the premiums for this insurance must be affordable. You should pay about what anyone else your age pays, regardless of health.

Depending on the state where you live, the insurance plan will either be run by the state or federal government. Go here to find out about how to apply in your state.

So, if you have been denied insurance, or denied insurance for your pre-existing condition, and have been without any health insurance for six months or more, this is for you.

Take advantage. And here’s to your good health.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

The Ditchdigger’s Daughters on BET on July 11

Friday, July 9th, 2010

The Ditchdigger’s Daughters movie is scheduled to be re-broadcast this Sunday, July 11th at 5:30 pm (EDT), on BET.  Get your TIVO out, if you haven’t seen it before.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH