In a new study from Johns Hopkins University, researchers using national data for people aged 18 to 25 found that while the prevalence of obesity was just over 6% in 1976 to 1980, it neared 33% by 2017 to 2018.
They concluded that this age group may be a key target for preventing obesity, given that habits formed during this period often persist throughout a lifetime.
These young adult years are critical for adult development, filled with some major life transitions. It is also a time that scientists see obesity emerging.
In the study, the team included data on just over 8,000 emerging adults from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Theories why include that it’s the food supply and that perhaps people who are genetically predisposed are reacting to diets of ultra-processed foods, storing it as fat when someone predisposed to being lean might burn those same foods.
Some believe that modern, well-controlled thermostats have kept bodies from working hard to maintain their core temperatures in cold and heat.
It may also be that the ingredients in ultra-processed foods are affecting people’s reward centers and making them want more of certain unhealthy foods. There could also be endocrine disruptors in the food supply.
The team said that while colleges may have healthy dining and exercise options, they may need more mental health care for their students because it is such a challenging transition time for many.
Obesity is concerning because it’s associated with a greater risk of a variety of health issues, including diabetes and heart disease.
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The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. One author of the study is Dr. Alejandra Ellison-Barnes.
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