Obese Teens Grow Into Severely Obese Adults

One of the most important risk factors for adult obesity is excess weight in children and youth.

But exactly how strong is this relationship?

This question was recently addressed by Natalie The and colleagues from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, in a paper published this month in JAMA.

In order to determine the incidence and risk of severe obesity in adulthood by adolescent weight status, The and colleagues examined data from a cohort of 8834 individuals aged 12 to 21 years enrolled in 1996 in wave II of the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, followed up into adulthood (ages 18-27 years during wave III [2001-2002] and ages 24-33 years during wave IV [2007-2009]).

In 1996, only 79 (1.0%) of adolescents were severely obese, of which 60 (70.5%) remained severely obese in adulthood.

However, by 2009, 703 (7.9%) of the non-severely obese adolescents had also become severely obese in adulthood, with the highest rates for non-Hispanic black women.

While the adolescents, who did not become severely obese only gained around 5 BMI units over the 13-year observation period, adolescents, who became severely obese gained an average of 14 BMI units during the same time period.

Obese adolescents were 16 times more likely to develop severe obesity in young adulthood than normal-weight or overweight adolescents.

These findings are alarming but not surprising. Indeed, they are well reflected in the increasing demand for teenage bariatric surgery, a topic I blogged about just last week.

I am guessing that unless we find more effective behavioural or medical treatments for severe obesity, our surgeons will continue to have more patients than they can ever hope to cope with.

I wonder what suggestions my readers have on how best to increase awareness of this problem.

Acapulco, Mexico

The NS, Suchindran C, North KE, Popkin BM, & Gordon-Larsen P (2010). Association of adolescent obesity with risk of severe obesity in adulthood. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 304 (18), 2042-7 PMID: 21063014