WASHINGTON — Being overweight as a teenager isn’t just a case of “baby fat” that kids will grow out of, a new study warns. Researchers with the American College of Cardiology say teens with a high body mass index (BMI) are more likely to develop diabetes and heart trouble as they enter adulthood.
Study authors find a high BMI during adolescence is a “significant” risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, early heart attacks, and overall poorer health later on. Even worse, an overweight teen’s risk for these conditions rises regardless of their BMI as an adult.
Doctors calculate BMI by looking at weight and height. BMI less than 18.5 kg/m2 falls into the “underweight” category, while anything from 18.5 to 24.9 is “normal” weight. Physicians consider 25 to 29.9 kg/m2 as “overweight” and a BMI of 30 or greater as “obese.”
The research team analyzed the BMI z-scores – the relative weight adjusted for a child’s age and sex – of 12,300 adolescents with 24 years of follow-up. The participants were 11 to 18 years-old at the start of the report.
The children had an average BMI at the start of the study of 22.4 kg/m2. Each one-unit higher BMI z-score during adolescence had a link with a 4.17 kg/m2 higher BMI in adulthood throughout the 24-year follow-up.
Overweight children become unhealthy adults
Results show a higher BMI in adolescence has a connection to a 2.6 percent increase in overall poor health. Moreover, it also ties to an 8.8 percent increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and a 0.8 percent higher chance of suffering a heart attack during a person’s 30s and 40s. Again, researchers found these risks were independent of each participant’s adult BMI. The study is the first of its kind to show the adverse relationship of childhood weight in younger adults, according to the research team.
“The finding that adolescent BMI is a risk factor for poor health outcomes in adulthood, regardless of adult BMI, has significant implications for our understanding of cardiovascular disease onset,” says study lead author Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California-San Francisco, in a media release. “Considering these findings, health care providers should consider BMI history when assessing for cardiovascular and chronic disease risk.”
Study authors add the findings, appearing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, support the theory that both age of obesity onset and the longer someone remains obese contributes to insulin resistance and atherosclerosis. They recommend more guidance and support from pediatricians to patients to help combat teenage obesity.
“Our study suggests that adolescence is an important time period to optimize health and prevent early heart attacks,” Dr. Nagata concludes. “Pediatricians should encourage teens to develop healthy behaviors including physical activity and balanced meals.”
SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.