Skip to content

Children's Health

Font Size

Overweight Teens Face Heart Risks as Adults

Study Shows Heart Risk Persists Even if a Person Loses Weight in Adulthood

Diabetes Risks May Be Changed continued...

“One of the things we’ve been lacking is this longitudinal look at what happens in childhood and adolescence and how that plays out in adulthood in terms of the kind of outcomes they were looking at,” says Daniels, who co-authored an American Heart Association scientific statement on obesity in children but was not involved in the current research.

“Our approach to looking at BMI in children has always been a statistical approach, meaning that we took a population and assumed that it was the people at the upper end of that distribution where the problems were,” Daniels says. “We’ve never really had a good outcome-based definition of body mass index in children.”

Tracking Heart and Diabetes Risk

Researchers followed more than 37,000 Israeli young men who received health screenings at age 17 when they signed up for their country’s mandatory military service.

They continued to get checkups every three to five years until they were in their early to mid-30s.

After an average of 17 years, researchers documented nearly 1,200 cases of type 2 diabetes and 327 cases of cardiovascular disease, which was defined as having at least one coronary artery at least 50% blocked.

Looking back at the men’s BMIs when they first started the study, researchers saw a clear link between their size and their risks for both diabetes and heart disease.

Average BMIs in the study ranged from 17.4, representing an average height of 5 feet 6 inches and a weight of 114 pounds, in the lightest group, to 27.6, representing an average of 5 feet 8 inches and 185 pounds, in the heaviest group.

Those who fell into the heaviest group had about three times the risk of developing diabetes compared to the lightest teens.

For every point increase in BMI in the teens, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as an adult increased by nearly 10% from the lowest to highest groups.

But that risk disappeared after researchers adjusted the results to reflect adult BMIs.

For heart disease risk, however, which increased 12% for every point increase in BMI, the association remained, even if the men had lost weight as adults.

“It seems to be that our body has a longer BMI memory in terms of cardiovascular diseases,” says Tirosh.

“For two 35- or 40-year-old men who have a normal BMI as adults, let’s say BMI of 22 or 23, one could have as much as a sevenfold higher risk for cardiovascular disease, simply because he used to have a higher BMI as a teenager,” Tirosh tells WebMD.

Experts say the message of the study to parents and teens should be clear.

“It’s never too early to start being healthy,” says Katzmarzyk. “Don’t wait until you’re 50 or 60 worrying about a heart attack. You really need to be concerned early on.”


Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.

worried kid
boy on father's shoulder
Child with red rash on cheeks
girl thinking

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Child with adhd
rl with friends
Syringes and graph illustration