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December 13, 2017 | 3 minute read

More Than Half of U.S. Children Will Have Obesity By Age 35

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that among children between the ages of 2 and 19 years in 2016, more than half (57.3%) will have obesity by the age of 35 years.

For a two-year old with severe obesity, the chance of being at a healthy weight at age 35 is only one in five. This two-year old is more likely than an overweight 19-year old to have obesity at age 35. These findings are part of the study undertaken by a group of public health scientists that was led by Zachary Ward of T.H. Chan school of Public Health at Harvard University.

These dire projections are issued despite the fact that the prevalence of obesity has declined recently among children between the ages of 2 and 5 years and has stabilized among those between the ages of 6 and 11. Obesity, however, continues to rise among adolescents and adults.

“For a two-year old with severe obesity, the chance of being at a healthy weight at age 35 is only one in five”

Method and Data
The researchers estimated the likelihood for adult obesity for a given child on the basis of current weight and age. They used data from five nationally representative studies with repeated height and weight measures from nearly 42,000 children and adults with an average of 4.3 measurements taken per person. Then they simulated growth trajectories across the life course based on predictive curves developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Body mass index (BMI) categories were calculated based on CDC standards with obesity defined as ≥30 Kilograms per square meters in adults. Severe obesity was defined as BMI of 35 or higher in adults and 120 percent or more of the 95th percentile in same-aged children.

Ward et al write, “We found that only those children with a current healthy weight have less than a 50 percent chance of becoming obese by the age of 35 years. For children with severe obesity, the risk of adult obesity is particularly high.”

The study does not look at underlying causes of obesity but suggests that increased risks to adult obesity starts accumulating early.
“Our findings highlight the importance of promoting a healthy weight throughout childhood and adulthood,” they claimed.

Government data shows that the current adult obesity rate stands at a record 39.8 per cent and the rate in children and teens is 18.5 per cent.

Obesity and Cancer
The consequences of obesity start to show at a relatively early age and there is ample evidence linking adult obesity to several types of cancer. Due to strong evidence, AICR recommends maintaining a healthy weight throughout life to best reduce the chances of developing cancer. Read the full list of AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention.

“Make healthful foods the center of your child’s diet starting with baby’s first solid food,” says Alice Bender, Registered Dietitian at AICR, “Offer colorful vegetables and fruit and continue to serve them even if your child rejects them at first. Food shouldn’t be a battle, but making healthful foods available and limiting sugary foods and drinks are some basic steps you can take to help your child learn to eat healthfully. If you are concerned with your child’s eating or weight, talk with your health provider or a dietitian for child appropriate strategies.”


Note: This study was supported in part by grants from the JPB Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Donald and Sue Pritzker Nutrition and Fitness Initiative, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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