Irish teens face heart disease and infertility as obesity crisis grows
Obesity in young girls could mean they will find it impossible to have a baby later in life.
Being seriously overweight can bring on early puberty, as well as lead to a range of infertility problems.
Complications with the reproductive system, as well as health problems affecting the liver and pancreas, are among the long-term risks for children and early teens who are battling a serious weight problem.
And startling new research shows Irish teenagers as young as 15 are already displaying signs of heart disease.
Professor Niall Moyna, from the Dublin City University School of Health and Human Performance, blamed Ireland's spiralling obesity epidemic among the younger age group for an increase in a wide range of health disorders. These include polycystic ovary syndrome, one of the most common causes of infertility.
Obesity can also cause period problems, excess hair growth, and acne. He said overweight girls "dramatically increase" their risk of becoming infertile.
"There is no doubt it impacts on reproduction," said Prof Moyna. "In fact, if a woman goes for IVF treatment, she won't get it if her BMI is above a certain level. She'll be told she must decrease her body weight before they'll put her on IVF."
Weight gain may also cause harmful changes to a child's hormone levels, which could result in puberty happening earlier, he added. Studies suggest early puberty can increase the risk of suffering cancer or other serious health problems in later life.
"We have been getting information for the past decade that our kids have become more inactive and more obese. If you have a poor diet - and you don't exercise - the child develops fatty plaques. It's occurring much more rapidly now than we ever thought it would."
Prof Moyna said the fact that 15-year-olds were already showing signs of heart disease was "very disturbing".
He said while parents have a "tough job", they must take responsibility for their child's burgeoning waistline. "Kids are a mirror of their parents. If the parents are overweight or diabetic, it's usually the same with the kids. The school curriculum must also play a part."
He said if a child had the early stages of heart disease at age 15, they risked having a heart attack in their 40s if they didn't change their ways. "If they've been inactive and exposed to risk factors from four or five years of age, they'll be obese at eight."
One in four children is either overweight or obese in Ireland.
The research was released to coincide with the launch of Aviva Health's Schools' Fitness Challenge - a six-week campaign which aims to improve young people's cardiovascular health.
"It aims to provide teenagers with a measure of their cardiovascular fitness and overall health," said exercise physiologist Dr Sarah Kelly.