Well, this is great. The timing of your first period, while previously linked only to bleeding through your gym shorts on seventh grade dodgeball day, may be an indicator of your risk of adulthood cardiovascular disease and obesity. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death amongst women in the United States and yet, because it manifests later in women than it does in men, researchers have long struggled to find a way to tell which females are more at risk. A recent study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, however has possibly found a link between heart disease and the onset of menarche.
Says Medical Doctor and Master of Public Health Caroline S. Fox:
"The purpose of this study was to examine whether female reproductive risk factors -– including onset of menarche, number of births over a lifetime (called parity), onset of menopause, and menopausal status –- are associated with indices of body fat composition. We found that earlier onset of menarche is associated with overall adiposity [fat], whereas parity and menopausal age were not associated with adiposity measures. Post-menopausal women also had higher levels of overall adiposity, though this appeared to be mostly due to age and not menopausal status."
In other words, women who first got their period at a younger age are more likely to have a larger body mass index and waist circumference in adulthood than those who began menstruating in their early teens.
The study, featuring 1,638 women over the age of 40 who weighed less than 352 lbs., explored the relationship between visceral adiposity (belly fat) and subcutaneous adiposity (the fat under the skin) with "female reproductive factors after adjusting for age, smoking status, alcohol intake, physical activity index, hormone replacement therapy and menopausal status. Results of the study showed the timing of the first menstrual cycle was associated with generalized but not regional body fat depots."
According to the leader of the study Dr. Subbulaxmi Trikudanathan:
"This research suggests that select female reproductive risk factors, specifically onset of menarche, are associated with overall adiposity, but not with specific indices of body fat distribution. Ultimately, the important question is whether female reproductive risk factors can be used to target lifestyle interventions in high risk women to prevent the metabolic consequences of obesity and cardiovascular disease."
And this may put even more pressure on girls who get their periods at a young age — whereas once their biggest worry was trying to smuggle a tampon out of class, they now have to think about heart disease, too.