The present study examines the modifiable risk factors associated with eating disturbances, waist-to-height ratio, and cardiovascular biomarkers among a well-characterized cohort of black and white girls in the United States from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study (NGHS). For 10 years, the NGHS followed black and white preadolescent girls, who were recruited from public and parochial schools in Richmond, California, and Cincinnati, Ohio, and from families enrolled in a large health maintenance organization in the Washington, DC area. The dissertation is divided into three papers.
Paper 1 investigates the correlation of parental weight comments and the daughter’s unhappiness with her weight with eating disturbances among 874 black and 852 white girls, from adolescence (12-13 years) to late adolescence (18-19 years). Findings showed that either parents’ weight comments were positively associated with their daughters’ eating disturbance scores. It is important to remind parents that their direct verbal messages can have a lasting impact on their children’s likelihood to develop eating disturbances later in life.
Paper 2 examines the two-year time-lagged association between intake of sugary beverages and WHtR among 896 black and 988 white girls, from childhood (9-10 years) to late adolescence (18-19 years). Sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption among all girls was significantly associated with a slight increase in waist-to-height ratio (WHtR), a sensitive marker of abdominal obesity, while fruit juice or flavored milk was not. The findings about the influence of SSBs have important public health implications as increased WHtR has been linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular risk. Since taste preferences in childhood can track into adulthood, it is imperative that public health efforts are directed towards reducing children’s consumption of sugary beverages.
Paper 3 investigates the one-year time-lagged association between abdominal obesity measures and cardiovascular biomarkers among 760 black and 719 white girls, from childhood (10-11 years) to late adolescence (18-19 years). The study provides evidence using longitudinal data that abdominal obesity measures are associated with an increased score in cardiovascular biomarkers among young girls. Though BMI is the most commonly used measure of body fat among children, our findings underscore that where children store their fat—especially, near the abdomen—is important in assessing their potential to develop risk factors for heart disease.