Childhood obesity is giving more girls irregular periods

The obesity epidemic could increase the rate of teenage girls with irregular periods and painful cramps, new research suggests.

Bulging waistlines among children are driving up the rates of type two diabetes.

While obesity is known to cause reproductive problems in adult women, very little research has been done into its effects on young girls.

Researchers from the University of Colorado warned this trend could ultimately lead to a spike in infertility, and current methods of treatment – from medications to lifestyle changes – are near-futile in fixing irregular periods.

One in five girls with type two diabetes have irregular periods, indicating the possibility of serious reproductive problems, according to a new study

Up until two decades ago, type two diabetes was known as adult-onset diabetes because it only occurred in adults.

In the last 15 years prevalence of the disease among children has risen more than 30 percent among children.

A National Health Institute study found that the number of children with type two diabetes rose nearly five percent each year between 2002 and 2012.

The number one risk factor for type two diabetes is being overweight, because it typically occurs when fat content in the body becomes so high that it develops a resistance to insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar.

This often happens when someone has been overweight for a long time, which is why it usually does not strike until middle age.  

In response to the trend, the NIH launched a nationwide study in 2013 focused on improving treatment of young people with type two diabetes called the Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Youth (TODAY) study.

The report published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism used data from the TODAY study specifically relating to menstruation to build on previous research indicating a link between weight problems and reproductive health.

The findings revealed that more than 20 percent of the girls ages 10 to 19 had irregular periods, a significantly higher rate than that of healthy girls in that age group.

Menstrual irregularities can have a variety of causes, including pregnancy, hormonal imbalances, infections, diseases, trauma and certain medications.

One of the more serious causes is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that develops soon after a woman starts having periods.   

It is thought to be caused by a hormone imbalance that can lead to the development of diabetes and other metabolic problems as well as infertility and painful cysts. 

Obese women have been found to have much higher rates of PCOS, but researchers have struggled to determine which leads to the other. 

Like diabetes, PCOS causes problems with insulin production that makes it difficult for women with the condition to maintain a healthy weight. 

Experts agree that women affected by obesity have a greater risk for PCOS and women with PCOS have a greater risk for obesity.

In this study, many the girls with irregular periods also had high testosterone levels, pointing to PCOS as an underlying cause.

However, most of them had normal testosterone levels, indicating that something else was causing the dysfunction.

The researchers split the girls up into three groups to test the effectiveness of common diabetes treatments for the menstrual symptoms.

One group received metformin, a drug commonly used to treat type two diabetes that reduces the amount of sugar absorbed by the stomach.

A second group received metformin and lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

A third group received metformin along with rosiglitazone, a drug that improves the effectiveness of insulin.

Throughout the two-year-long study, none of the treatments were found to improve the irregular periods.

‘Our findings suggest that girls with youth-onset diabetes may need the additional intervention above and beyond their diabetes treatment to improve their menstrual health,’ said lead author Megan Kelsey, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado.