Page 4 2012 Vol 2
Research around the world
Childhood obesity and how contraception is saving lives in developing countries
Childhood obesity skews timing of puberty
The childhood obesity ‘epidemic’ could be disrupting the timing of girls’ puberty and reducing their ability to reproduce, according to a review by two researchers at Oregon State University (US).
“The issue of so many humans being obese is very recent in evolutionary terms, and since nutritional status is important to reproduction, metabolic syndromes caused by obesity may profoundly affect reproductive capacity,”
said assistant professor Patrick Chappell, one of the review’s authors. “Either extreme of the spectrum, anorexia or obesity, can be associated with reproduction problems.”
The authors speculate that childhood obesity and lack of physical activity could interfere with girls’ daily (‘circadian’) body clocks, disrupting their sleep-wake cycles. This would change the levels of various hormones in their bodies.
“Any disruption of circadian clocks throughout the body can cause a number of problems, and major changes in diet and metabolism can affect these cellular clocks,” says Chappell. “Disruption of the clock through diet can even feed into a further disruption of normal metabolism, making the damage worse, as well as affecting sleep and reproduction.”
Dr Karin Hammarberg, a Jean Hailes researcher and spokesperson for the Your Fertility campaign, says “We already know that obesity reduces male and female fertility, and that babies born to obese mothers are more likely to suffer childhood obesity than those with mothers in the healthy weight range. Public health strategies are needed to help parents keep their children at a healthy weight, to avoid early puberty and future fertility problems.”
Contraception saves lives in developing countries
Contraceptive use may be saving more than 272,000 lives worldwide each year by allowing women to avoid unwanted pregnancies, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Baltimore, US).
Each year, about 358,000 women worldwide (almost all in developing countries) die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. 10-15% of pregnancies in developing countries end in maternal death due to unsafe abortions. The Johns Hopkins researchers calculated that, were contraception not available, this death toll could be as high as 614,000 – ie contraception has been responsible for a 44% reduction in maternal deaths. Making contraception more available in developing countries could reduce maternal deaths by another 30%.
The study’s lead author, Associate Professor Saifuddin Ahmed, said the findings reinforce the importance of effective contraception for health campaigns in developing countries: “Vaccination prevents child mortality; contraception prevents maternal mortality.”
Dr Heather Rowe, a Jean Hailes researcher studying management of fertility, says “the large unmet need for contraception in many countries today is a violation of women’s reproductive right to control the number and spacing of their children, which is so central to their health and wellbeing.”
Content Updated Setember 2012