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The Bone Health Risks of Teen Pregnancy

The good news is that rates of teen pregnancies in the United States are declining. The bad news is that apr. 500,000 teenage girls give birth each year in the US. In additional to the social risks of teen pregnancies, teenage mothers are also at increased risk for several complications of pregnancy including multiple gestations, premature labor, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and anemia. In addition to this list, new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (12/03) shows that young maternal age may have effect the body's ability to absorb calcium and solidify healthy bones, thereby increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Few studies have examined calcium absorption in adolescents during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., designed a study to investigate the efficiency of calcium absorption and changes in urinary calcium and hormone concentrations in girls. They studied a large group of girls aged thirteen to eighteen to determine how much of the calcium they took in food or as supplements was actually absorbed. They found that about one-third of the girls had signs of bone loss after pregnancy.

Earlier age at first pregnancy has been linked to lower bone density later in life. Accumulating data has shown that bone loss is more significant in pregnant, growing adolescent girls when compared with pregnant, adult women. In addition, breast-feeding adolescents experience more bone loss than breast-feeding adults.

While most people think of osteoporosis as affecting only the elderly, we know know that osteoporosis is a disease of pediatrics manifested in geriatrics. While height generally stops increasing in girls during adolescence, bone mass continues to build until age 30 to 35. Many circumstances earlier in life-including diet, exercise, pregnancies, smoking and other health habits-can influence bone health status later in life.

Created: 2/17/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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