A new study by the Yale School of Public Health suggests that overweight young mothers are more likely to engage in riskier sexual behaviors and are at a much higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases than their slimmer peers.
For the study, researchers explored the association between a woman’s body mass index (BMI) and how likely she is to partake in risky sexual behaviors (having multiple or casual partners or having unprotected sex) and her chances of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
“Researchers tend to focus on one health problem or another, without thinking about how health behaviors may relate and how common risk and social factors play a role across a wide spectrum of health outcomes,” said lead author Trace Kershaw, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health.
The research, which included 704 young mothers from New Haven and Atlanta, found that overweight mothers between the ages of 14 and 25 are almost 80 percent more at risk for having an STI than peers with a healthier weight and 64 percent more likely to take part in risky sexual behavior.
However, the research showed that young mothers who are obese, rather than just overweight, have a lower chance of contracting an STI than their average weight peers.
“Given the impact of obesity and sexual risk on young individuals, we need to develop comprehensive prevention programs that target multiple risk behaviors and outcomes,” said Kershaw.
Obesity and sexual risk are two of the most urgent public health issues affecting young people in the United States today, but there has been relatively little research on how the problems are linked, he said.
The findings are significant, but the reasons for these relationships are not as well understood, Kershaw said.
These differences remained despite overweight women having comparable amounts of protected and unprotected sex.
“It is possible that it is not differences in behavior that is causing increased STIs in overweight women, but the type of sex partner. Overweight women had riskier partners, which may be putting them at increased risk,” he said.
The paper is published online in the journal AIDS and Behavior.
Source: Yale School of Public Health