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Health & Parenting

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Teen Obesity as Deadly as Smoking

Study Shows Obese Teens Have Similar Risk for Early Death as Teen Smokers

Obesity, Smoking, and Early Death continued...

During an average of 38 years of follow-up, 2,897 of the roughly 45,000 men included in the study died.

The study also revealed that:

  • Men who were obese at age 18 had a similar risk for early death as men who were heavy smokers but whose weight was normal in their late teens.
  • Men who were obese and heavy smokers at age 18 were nearly five times as likely to die before age 60 as normal-weight, nonsmoking teens. Heavy smokers who were overweight in their teens were roughly three times more likely as normal-weight, nonsmoking teens to die young.
  • Men who were very underweight in their late teens had an increased risk for early death that was similar to overweight men.

Implications for Public Health

Earlier studies examining whether being overweight, but not obese, in late adolescence increases the risk for early death have presented mixed findings.

In the newly reported study, being overweight was strongly linked to an increased risk for early death. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health came to the same conclusion in a study involving female nurses followed for many years.

In 2006, the researchers reported that women who were overweight at age 18 had an increased risk for death in middle age.

"More teenagers are overweight than obese, so this finding has very important implications for public health," Neovius says.

Carolyn Landis, PhD, who heads the Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight program at Cleveland's Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, agrees, but she adds that the problem is not limited to teens.

Landis tells WebMD that she sees children as young as 10 who already have type 2 diabetes as a result of being overweight or obese.

"I don't think people really understand how quickly obesity can impact your health," she says. "Many kids who are obese already have high blood pressure and other weight-related health problems when they enter school. As a society we need to take this issue much more seriously."

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