The prevalence of obesity and overweight people in the world is at an all time high with nearly 2 billion people over the age of 19 being overweight and 650 million people being classified as obese. Shockingly, in many countries overweight and obesity kill more people than being underweight. There are many risk factors that are associated with excessive weight gain and obesity including behavioural factors (diet and exercise), community derived factors (socioeconomic status of neighbourhood), and genetics. There is evidence that teens who are overweight or obese will continue to be such during adulthood however, we don’t currently know how weight gain during childhood may set up someone to be overweight or obese during their teen years or into adulthood. This is where a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine aims to fill the gap.
The study used retrospective (previously collected) and prospective (collected during the study) data on BMI during childhood and adolescence in order to determine how weight gain during key childhood years affects the likelihood that someone will be overweight or obese in adulthood. They found that most adolescents in the study who were normal weight were also of normal weight during childhood. Conversely, they found that 53% of obese adolescents had been overweight or obese from the age of 5 an onwards. In the team’s prospective data set, they found that 90% of children who were obese at 3 years of age were overweight or obese as teens. Interestingly, a rapid weight gain during the pre-school years (ages 2-6) was associated with the greatest risk for being overweight or obese as teens (1.4 times higher).
This study highlights the importance of having a healthy body weight at all ages in order to prevent further weight gain and associated health problems later in life. It suggests that we should focus on implementing healthy living strategies in young families in order to help them obtain a healthy weight and lifestyle all the way into adolescents. If we can stop early childhood weight gain then maybe we can start to halt the increase in obesity during adulthood.