Women Who Give Birth as Teens at Higher Risk of Obesity

New study by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar links teen pregnancy with obesity later in adulthood.

    • April 23, 2013

ANN ARBOR ― A new study finds that women who give birth in their teens are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese later in life than women who were not teen moms. It is the first nationally representative study to identify a link between teen pregnancy and obesity, according to the authors, and will be published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“When clinicians care for teen mothers, we have so many immediate considerations – child care, housing, school, social and financial support – that we may fail to consider the long-term health effects of teen pregnancy,” said Tammy Chang, MD, MPH, MS, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan, and the study’s lead author. “What we have found in our study is that teen childbirth carries a long-term risk of obesity.”

The teen birthrate in the United States continues to be one of the highest among industrialized countries. Based on 2010 census data, teenagers deliver 1 in every 11 U.S. births.

Chang and colleagues analyzed data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a national study designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.

Overall, the researchers found that women who had first given birth as teens (age 13-19) were more likely to be obese (44 percent) than women who had given birth at age 20 or later (35 percent). After controlling for factors such as race/ethnicity, education, socioeconomic indicators, and the number of children women delivered, women who had first given birth as teens had 32 percent higher risk of obesity in later adulthood than women who had given birth at age 20 or later.

“These findings indicate that we need to start considering the long-term health risks of teen childbirth, as well as short-term risks, in health and policy discussions about teen pregnancy,” said Chang. “And now we know that long-term risks include obesity later in adulthood.”

Chang’s co-authors include HwaJung Choi, PhD, Caroline R. Richardson, MD, and Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP.  Drs. Richardson and Davis are alumni of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program, and Dr. Davis is a program co-director at the University of Michigan. 

The study, “Implications of Teen Birth for Overweight and Obesity in Adulthood” will be published as “Editor’s Choice” in July’s American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The research findings presented here are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Media Contact:

Christine Clayton | RWJF | media@rwjf.org | (609) 627-5937
Barrett Whitener | IQ Solutions | bwhitener@iqsolutions.com | (240) 221-4347

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. Follow the Foundation on Twitter (www.rwjf.org/twitter) or Facebook (www.rwjf.org/facebook).

About the RWJF Clinical Scholars Program

For more than three decades, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program has fostered the development of physicians who are leading the transformation of health care in the United States through positions in academic medicine, public health and other leadership roles. Through the program, future leaders learn to conduct innovative research and work with communities, organizations, practitioners and policy-makers on issues important to the health and well-being of all Americans. This program is supported in part through collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, visit http://rwjcsp.unc.edu.

Learn More

See the key findings from the study, "Implications of Teen Birth for Overweight and Obesity in Adulthood." Read the study