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More than half of US children destined for obesity in adulthood

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November 29, 2017

More than half of U.S. children will have obesity by age 35 years if current trends continue, according to results gathered from a simulation model projecting height and weight trajectories.

“Adult obesity is linked with increased risk of diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” Zachary J. Ward, MPH, programmer/analyst at the Center for Health Decision Science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release. “Our findings highlight the importance of prevention efforts for all children as they grow up, and of providing early interventions for children with obesity to minimize their risk of serious illness in the future.”

Ward and colleagues pooled height and weight data from five nationally representative longitudinal studies totaling 176,720 observations from 41,567 children and adults to estimate the risk for adult obesity. Researchers used the data to create 1,000 virtual populations of 1 million children to age 19 years to represent the U.S. population and then projected height and weight trajectories from childhood to age 35 years.

BMI 35 kg/m2 or higher in adults and 120% or more of the 95th percentile in children were used to define severe obesity.

Researchers projected that more than half (57.3%; 95% uncertainty interval [UI], 55.2-60) of children aged 2 to 19 years will have obesity by age 35 years on the basis of current trends for BMI and obesity.

Researchers observed that the probability that children with obesity who will still be obese at age 35 years increased from 74.9% at age 2 years to 88.2% at 19 years. The probability of obesity at age 35 years in children without obesity decreased from 57.8% at age 2 years to 44.4% at 19 years. Compared with children without obesity, children with obesity had increased RRs for obesity in adulthood of 1.3 (95% UI, 1.17-1.45) at age 2 years to 1.99 (95% UI, 1.8-2.17) at age 19 years.

Severe obesity in childhood significantly increased risks for adulthood obesity at age 35 years with the chances of not being obese ranging from 21% at age 2 years to 6.1% at 19 years.

“It is critically important to implement policies and programs to prevent excess weight gain, starting at an early age,” study researcher Steven L. Gortmaker, PhD, professor of the practice of health sociology in the department of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in the release. “Plenty of cost-effective strategies have been identified that promote healthy foods, beverages and physical activity within school and community settings.” – by Amber Cox

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

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