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Maintaining normal weight as an adult may neutralize the health risks of childhood obesity

Nov. 18, 2011

By Patricia Nicholson

Obese children who grow up to be normal-weight adults do not have higher cardiovascular risks than people who have always had a normal body mass index (BMI), new study results suggest.  

Obesity in childhood has been linked to future cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and clogged arteries. Childhood obesity is also a linked to a high risk of adult obesity. However, the health effects of childhood obesity in people who are not obese as adults have not been clear.

To investigate whether normal-weight adults who were obese or overweight as children may have increased cardiovascular risks, an international team led by researchers based at the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital in Finland used data from four different studies involving more than 6,300 people who were followed from childhood to adulthood. Average age of the participants when the studies began was 11, and they were followed for an average of 23 years.

The researchers analyzed the data in two different ways to look at the effects of childhood obesity. Not surprisingly, they found that people who were consistently overweight or obese from childhood to adulthood had significantly higher cardiovascular risks than those who had normal BMI as children and as adults. Those who were normal-weight children who became obese as adults also had increased cardiovascular risks.

However, people who were overweight or obese as children, but had normal BMI in adulthood, did not have increased risks compared to people who had maintained a normal BMI throughout their lives.

The study authors note that childhood BMI is often a predictor of adult BMI, and that obesity is a condition that is difficult to overcome once it has developed. But those who do overcome childhood obesity to become normal-weight adults do not carry established heart risks with them, the study results suggest.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Nov. 17, 2011.


Read more on obesity:

Double burden of obesity and depression

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital