Findings from a new review of studies suggest that these studies may have underestimated the effect of obesity during childhood and adolescence on later health.
The analysis, one of the largest ever to address the issue, included close to 50,000 children.
Compared to children and teens at a healthy weight, those who were obese were more likely to have risk factors for heart disease and diabetes including high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
“Parents and health policymakers need to understand that obesity in childhood affects much more than appearance,” says researcher Claire Friedemann, a doctoral candidate in health sciences at the University of Oxford in the U.K.
“Obesity affects a child’s health and puts them on a path for developing many health issues as they get older.”
Obese Kids at Risk Later in Life
The analysis included 63 studies published between 2000 and 2011 that included a total of 49,220 healthy children between the ages of 5 and 15.
All measured the children’s weight as well as one or more of the known risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
Early Signs of Heart Disease
Obese children and teens were also more likely than their peers to have a thickening of the heart muscle, which is a risk for heart disease in adults.
This evidence of an impact on the heart as early as childhood is particularly worrisome, researchers Lee Hudson and Russell M. Viner, of London’s Institute of Child Health, write in an editorial.
The study and editorial appear this week in the journal BMJ.
“The current review provides a stark illustration of the probable threat that childhood obesity poses,” they write.
CDC: Child Obesity Has Tripled in U.S.
The obesity rate among children in the U.S. has tripled since 1980. According to the CDC, close to 17% of children and teens (or 12.5 million) in this country are obese.
Nancy Copperman, RD, says it is increasingly clear that childhood obesity is a major risk for health problems later in life, especially for those who carry their extra weight into adulthood.
Copperman is director of public health initiatives at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
“Obesity in childhood is not just a cosmetic problem,” she says. “We are already seeing type 2 diabetes, which is strongly related to obesity, in more and more kids. This is a wake-up call for everyone.”