The relationship between adolescent obesity and pelvis dimensions in adulthood: a retrospective longitudinal study

PeerJ. 2020 May 11;8:e8951. doi: 10.7717/peerj.8951. eCollection 2020.


Background: The effect of fat tissue on a developing individual is fundamentally different from the effect on an adult. Several changes caused by obesity during sexual maturation have an irreversible and severe negative effect (lower fertility, reduced final height, type 2 diabetes mellitus) even for those who have subsequently lost weight. Our study was focused on monitoring the skeletal structure substantially influenced by sex hormones-the pelvis. The adult pelvis is strongly sexually dimorphic, which is not the case for the juvenile pelvis; skeletal differences between sexes are not so prominent and start to manifest with the onset of puberty. Evidence from animal models and case studies of treatment of gender dysphoria suggests that estrogens have a stimulatory effect on the growth plates present on the pelvis, leading to morphological change. Male obesity, especially in puberty, is connected with hypogonadism, manifesting in low levels of testosterone, and high levels of estrogens. The goal of our study was to evaluate the influence of obesity during adolescence on the morphology of the adult pelvis in the context of androgen and estrogen status.

Sample and methods: Our sample consists of 238 individuals (144 females, 94 males) observed after an 8 year follow-up (mean age during enrollment 15.2 years, follow-up 23.3 years). Anthropometry and body composition using bioimpedance analysis (BIA) were obtained. During the follow-up, saliva samples from male participants were also collected to estimate testosterone and estradiol levels using the salivary ELISA kit (Salimetrics LLC, State College, PA, USA).

Results: The body fat (percentage of body fat estimated using BIA) was strongly positively associated with relative pelvic breadths in adulthood (males r = 0.64; females r = 0.56, both with p < 0.001). Adulthood pelvic breadth was a highly sensitive (0.81) and specific (0.74) retrospective marker of obesity during adolescence. The complex regression model (with reduction of dimensionality) including testosterone, estradiol to testosterone ratio and body fat (adolescent and adulthood) was able to describe 54.8% variability of pelvic breadth among males.

Discussion: We observed that adults with a history of obesity from adolescence tend to have a wider dimension of the bony pelvis in adulthood. Based on the parameters of the adult pelvis, the history of obesity can be determined with satisfactory sensitivity and specificity (<70%). One of the explanations for this observation can be the influence of relatively elevated estrogens levels connected with excessive adiposity leading to a wider pelvis. However, the biomechanical stress connected with elevated body mass also has to be considered, as does the influence of physical activity and gait pattern on the skeletal build.

Keywords: Auxology; Development; Estrogenization; Obesity; Pelvis.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Charles University Grant Agency (GA UK No. 1250317) and the Czech Ministry of Health (AZV No. 17-31670A). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.