Compared to teens at healthy weights, obese teens are much more like to develop gallstones—hard, pebble-like deposits that form inside the gallbladder ranging from the size of a sand grain to a golf ball, reported BBC News. Most stones are made of cholesterol, although their existence has no connection to cholesterol levels in the blood.
According to the National Institutes of Health, gallstones are more common in women, Native Americans, Hispanics, and people over age 40. Gallstones also have a tendency to run in families, and certain health conditions like diabetes enhance one’s risk of developing them.
Symptoms of gallstones generally include abdominal pain, fever and yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, and potentially clay-colored stools, nausea and vomiting. Stones are most commonly treated with surgical removal and sometimes medication. If untreated, they can be fatal.
Kaiser Permanente researchers studied 510,000 children aged 10-19. Of those, 766 had gallstones. Results revealed that those who were extremely obese were six times more likely as those with a healthy weight to have gallstones; those classified as moderately obese were four times more likely; and those considered overweight were twice as likely to have gallstones than their healthy counterparts.
The association between weight and gallstones was higher among girls than in boys.
The recent news adds to mounting evidence that obesity-linked disorders are occurring at increasingly young ages, National Obesity Forum chairman Prof David Haslam told BBC. “We know there is a link between the condition and obesity. But yet again we are seeing an adult illness in young people—because of obesity.
“We have already seen Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Now it’s gallstones,” he added. “And because these conditions are coming earlier, deaths will come earlier.”