THURSDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- The epidemic of excess weight gain and obesity among young Americans began about 15 years ago, a new study finds.
"Our research documents the emergence of the obesity epidemic among adolescents in the later half of the 1990s, and among young adults in 2000," said Hedwig Lee, who led the study while at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is now an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"The jury is still out about all the possible causes for the increasing weight gain among adolescents . . . as well as for the entire population," said Lee.
However, she cited a number of possible factors, including a rise in time spent in front of computer or TV screens and longer time spent in post-secondary education, "transitioning" to adulthood. According to Lee, poor diet and couch-potato lifestyles rise when young people leave the parental home and go out on their own, before starting their own families.
The research focused on a measure called the body mass index, or BMI, which calculates a relationship between weight and height.
As BMI grows, so do concerns arise about obesity-related illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, stroke, liver disease, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis and fertility problems, Lee said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of Americans are now either overweight or obese, with slightly more women than men affected.
The study of about 100,000 adolescents and young adults used four large national databases tracking the BMIs of 12- to 26-year-olds from 1959 to 2002.
The results showed that BMIs increased "sharply in the adolescent ages beginning in the 1990s, and among young adults around 2000," especially among black females. Overall, BMI increases started earlier and
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