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Study suggests that early obesity leads to early substance abuse in girls

A new study by researchers at the Indiana University School of Education suggests that overweight Hispanic and white girls start using substances at an earlier age than their other ethnic and gender counterparts.

The study

The data was published just this summer and looked at close to 7,000 participants from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Researchers observed the relationship between the weights the kids were in second grade and the age at which they started using substances.

They found Hispanic females who were overweight as girls used alcohol and marijuana earlier; while Caucasian girls who were overweight started smoking cigarettes and marijuana earlier.

There was virtually no link between African-American girls’ weight and the age of initial use of cigarettes, marijuana or alcohol. Likewise, the results did not match in young boys of any race. In fact, the study showed overweight Caucasian boys and underweight Hispanic and African-American boys were less likely to use illegal substances in their adolescent years.

The hypothesis

Study authors articulate a particular sequence of factors that may lead to early substance use among some overweight children:

  • Many health experts believe the inflation of childhood obesity plays a role in early puberty
  • Researchers conclude socio-developmental mechanisms, specifically early puberty – go hand in hand with childhood weight and early substance use more so for girls
  • Being overweight in school can foster difficulty to form mainstream supportive and positive relationships, pushing this demographic to the social fringes, where less motivated students and negative influencers reside
  • “The types of relationships that young people form may influence their opportunities and motivation to experiment with substance use,” study authors note

But if this hypothesis were accurate, why doesn’t it apply to all the overweight groups of children across the board?

Holes in the study

Study authors note being overweight can result in difficulties in forming peer relationships, yet the finding is not strong because the correlation was only apparent for white and Hispanic girls, not for any other overweight group.

The researchers also did not note any commonality between Hispanic and white girls.

It could be that associative stigmas are so strong, creating an allowance of other groups to be overweight – and not so strong for Hispanic and Caucasian girls – that when these two groups exceed the visual stereotype, they are then ostracized.

Put another way, in trying to understand why Hispanic and white girls are using substances at earlier ages, is it possible the greater problem is with the other groups? Is it culturally acceptable that black girls and boys as well as Hispanic and white boys can be overweight? Are there subculture peer groups already established for them and perhaps tight-knit minority groups that claim or include Asian and American Indian overweight kids?

More proof

The inconsistency in the study actually supports the scary truth about substance use. It is indeed no respecter of persons. From Poor kids and  ethnic minorities to rural or affluent whites, addiction is a brain disease that has genetic ties, can be fueled by trauma and holds an escapist allure for all groups and every milieu just the same.

Sovereign Health of Texas provides holistic treatment for all walks of life. We enfold our patients in substance abuse rehabilitation and mental health recovery, where it’s needed. Using tailored treatment plans, alternative therapies and cognitive remediation, we help patients recover and rediscover their purpose and passion. Call our 24/7 helpline to discover A Better Way to a Better Life.

About the author

Sovereign Health Staff Writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing and editing; writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; radio production; and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at     

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