Overweight teens may experience precursor to osteoporosis

Excess body weight can increase the risk of a number of health issues, including osteoporosis. A team of pediatricians from the Medical College of Georgia recently reported that bone loss, which is a risk factor for osteoporosis, can start as early as adolescence among overweight teens with health risk factors.

Researchers associated the precursors of type 2 diabetes, as well as low levels of so-called good cholesterol, with bone loss among teens between the ages of 14 and 18. The group's results appear in the Journal of Pediatrics.

To reach these conclusions, researchers took body and blood-serum measurements from more than 140 overweight adolescents. They analyzed each teen's cardiometabolic risk factors (CRFs), which included large waist size, insulin resistance, excess visceral fat tissue and low levels of high-density lipoprotein, also known as good cholesterol.

Teens who had one CRF had an approximately 5 percent lower bone mass than those without any, while participants with two or more CRFs had a more than 6 percent lower bone mass than those who presented none.

This deficiency puts them at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.

As a corollary, the study's authors noted that overweight teens who are otherwise healthy - that is, those who had none of the above risk factors - did not suffer significantly from decreased bone density.

Researchers theorized that reducing teens' caloric intake is not a proper solution, since all of the study's participants fell within an average intake range. Instead, they suggested that teens who are overweight with CRFs get more exercise.

The team noted that physical activity spurs the function of osteoblasts, which are specialized cells that create bone tissue. They added that exercise also encourages the release of a hormone called osteocalcin that helps regulate bone tissue and insulin production.

The effect of body weight on bone mass is not limited to teens, either. Research recently presented at the Radiological Society of North America linked excess belly fat in middle-aged women to an increased risk of osteoporosis.

Obese Americans may suffer from vitamin D deficiencies, which is why the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends talking to a physician about vitamin supplementation.