Nutrition lessons give 17-year-old Maria Benoy a healthy start on the rest of her life.
"I didn't really have much of a weight problem until I was like 10 or 11," Benoy says.
In her mid-teens, she put on a fast 40 pounds.
"I just felt that this was how it was going to be for the rest of my life," Benoy says.
But there was more to the story. Two years ago, Benoy was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS -- a hormonal disease that's often not diagnosed until women are well into their 20s.
"There is a definite risk of ignoring the symptoms and making the disease worse over the long term," says Kathleen Hoeger, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Rochester Medial Center in Rochester, N.Y.
PCOS is characterized by an over-production of male hormones in women, also high insulin levels. Weight gain, hair growth and acne are early signs. It raises the risk of heart disease, infertility and diabetes.
"You cannot erase the fact that you have this tendency toward PCOS, but you can control the symptoms and maybe make no consequences to you across your lifetime," Dr. Hoeger says.
Dr. Hoeger hopes diagnosing and treating girls in their teens will make a real difference. In her study, girls get a hormonal treatment and learn the importance of healthy eating and exercise.
"Many of the girls have lost a fair amount of weight, certainly more than the goal we set for them of 5 percent," Dr. Hoeger says.
Benoy has lost 40 pounds.
"Not many people are given the opportunity to fix this at such a young age, so I really feel lucky," Benoy says.
With her PCOS under control, Benoy is now dancing lighter -- and stronger -- on her feet.
A pelvic ultrasound can be used to confirm a diagnosis of PCOS. In treatment, weight loss is key: research shows losing just five percent of excess body weight can improve fertility.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Strong Health Fertility Center
University of Rochester Medical Center