Obese Children Twice as Likely to Die Young?
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 10, 2010 -- Childhood obesity more than doubles the risk of dying
before age 55, according to a new long-term study that followed nearly 5,000
''The bottom line is, obesity in kids is a serious problem that needs to be
taken seriously," study co-author William C. Knowler, MD, DrPH, tells WebMD.
Although experts have known that for years, he says, the new research is
"What this particular study shows is, obesity is going to cause excess
premature death," says Knowler, chief of the Diabetes Epidemiology and Clinical
Research Section of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Although recent data suggest a leveling off of obesity in the U.S., one in
six teens is obese.
The study is in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Obesity in Childhood, Early Death Linked
Knowler and his colleagues evaluated 4,857 American Indian children who were
born between 1945 and 1984, then followed them long-term. Most participants
were at least half Pima or Tohono O'odham Indian. They lived in the area of the
Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.
The researchers gathered data about the children's body mass index (BMI),
glucose tolerance, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. None of the children
had diabetes at the beginning of the study, although 559 developed it during
During a median follow-up period of nearly 24 years (half followed longer,
half less), there were 166 deaths from natural causes before age 55. There were
393 deaths from external causes, such as accidents or homicide, before 55.
The researchers divided the participants into four groups, or quartiles,
depending on their BMI. In all, 28.7% of the children were obese, according to
Higher BMI, Higher Premature Death Risk
The researchers compared the risk of early death for those in the four BMI
quartiles. "Those in the top quartile had over twice the rate of death from
natural causes before age 55 as those in the lowest quartile of BMI," Knowler
Among these natural causes of death were alcoholic liver disease,
cardiovascular disease, infections, cancer, diabetes, acute alcohol poisoning,
and drug overdose.
''Obesity was not related to external causes of death, such as auto
accidents," Knowler says.
Other Risk Factors and Premature Death
Knowler's team also evaluated whether glucose levels, cholesterol levels, or
blood pressure during childhood boosted risk of premature death.
Death rates from natural causes among children in the highest group of
glucose intolerance (a risk factor for developing diabetes) were 73% higher
than among the children in the lowest group of glucose intolerance, the
No substantial links were found between cholesterol levels and premature
deaths. They did find that high blood pressure in childhood raised the risk of
premature death from natural causes by about 1.5 times.
"Obesity was a stronger predictor of premature death than either abnormal
glucose, cholesterol, or blood pressure," Knowler tells WebMD.