Nearly 60% of children and teens today will be obese by the time they're 35 years old if current obesity trends continue, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
For the study, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health pooled height and weight data from five different nationally representative studies to create a sample of just over 41,500 children and adults. Based on these data, the researchers projected height and weight growth up to age 35.
The researchers found that 57% of children between the ages of two and 19 in 2016 likely will be obese by age 35, and that non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be obese as adults than whites.
They also found the likelihood that childhood obesity will persist into adulthood increased with a child's age and BMI. For instance, the study found obese two-year-olds had a 75% chance of being obese by age 35, while obese 19-year-olds had an 88% chance of being obese by age 35.
The risk of adult obesity is significantly lower for children who aren't obese, with non-obese two-year-olds having a 58% chance of being obese by age 35 and non-obese 19-year-olds having a 44% chance.
"Although a broad range of public health and clinical efforts appear to have stabilized early childhood obesity rates ... on the basis of our simulation models, childhood obesity and overweight will continue to be a major health problem in the United States," the researchers wrote. "Early development of obesity predicted obesity in adulthood, especially for children who were severely obese."
Zachary Ward, the lead author on the study, said "In some ways, this is a surprising finding just because of the sheer magnitude of the problem. In other ways, it's not surprising when you look at how trends in weight gain and obesity have been going over the past 40 years. In some parts of the country, we're already approaching that level of obesity."
Stephen Daniels, chair of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said while the study is based on "a sophisticated statistical analysis technique that relies on certain assumptions, and those assumptions can be challenged … the assumptions are pretty reasonable and their conclusions are pretty reasonable, and, unfortunately, pretty scary." Daniels said that these findings show that children need "profound changes in physical activity and diet."
The researchers said the "findings highlight the importance of promoting a healthy weight throughout childhood and adulthood," adding, "There is evidence that cost-effective approaches with broad population reach could have substantial effects for the present generation of children" (Emery, Reuters, 11/29; Painter, USA Today, 11/29; Thielking, STAT News, 11/30; Minerd, MedPage Today, 11/29).
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