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Obesity in Children and Adolescents May Increase Risk of Mortality in Adulthood

Obesity is a condition in which a person is at least 30% over their ideal body weight. Obesity can lead to long term serious health conditions, such as high blood pressure , heart disease, diabetes , and early death. These conditions develop over time and are associated with adults. As the number of obese children rises, these health conditions are increasingly occurring at earlier ages. This led some scientists to wonder what effect increasing rates of childhood obesity will have on mortality in adulthood.

University researchers from Sweden reviewed national data to determine if obesity in youth was linked to an increase in mortality in adulthood. The study found that being overweight or obese in late adolescence did increase the risk of adult mortality.

About the Study

The initial data was collected through a nationwide military registration of young males. The registration included information on height, weight, and smoking habits. All of the men were initially between the ages of 16-20. Weight was categorized using the body mass index (BMI) scale. Overweight was a BMI from 25-29 and obese was any BMI 30 or over. Participants included 45, 920 men. They were followed over a 38-year period. During this time, 2,897 men died. After accounting for factors that are known to influence mortality rates, such as smoking, the data found the risk of mortality was:
  • 33% higher for overweight males
  • 114% higher for obese males

A second study done from this same data also examined smoking habits. As supported in many previous studies smoking was also associated with early death. Alarmingly, being overweight and obese carried the same mortality risk as moderate and heavy smoking. If the men were obese and heavy smokers, they multiplied risk of death by five.

How Does This Affect You?

Obesity is a growing problem among youth worldwide. This study reinforces the serious health risks of being overweight or obese, even in youth. It is never too early to address childhood obesity. Tobacco, another problem that begins in youth, has long been the number one preventable cause of early death. Obesity, which is far more common than smoking, appears to be in competition for this infamous top spot.

Talk to your child’s doctor about a healthy weight range . If your child is overweight, begin by working with a dietitian to determine what changes can be safely and effectively made in your child’s diet and activity schedule. Healthy lifestyle habits that are adopted at early ages are more likely to be continued through adulthood.




  • Neovius M, Sundstrom J, Rasmussen F. Combined effects of overweight and smoking in late adolescence on subsequent mortality: nationwide cohort study. BMJ. 2009 Feb 24;338:b496. doi: 10.1136/bmj.b496.

Last reviewed April 2009 by Richard Glickman-Simon, MD

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