Obesity While Young May Boost Obesity Risk Later

Obese young adults at higher risk for severe obesity later in life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Obesity has become a problem among Americans of all ages, including young adults. If these young obese people don't lose weight, they could be putting themselves at risk for a host of health problems as the years go by. 

A recent study found that people who were obese in early adulthood were at greater risk of becoming severely obese after age 35 than their normal-weight peers.

The research showed that losing weight, regardless of the length of obesity, lowered the risks for heart disease and diabetes.

"Speak with your doctor about the best weight loss program for you."

This study was led by Jennifer B. Dowd, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at City University of New York School of Public Health.

Dr. Dowd and team looked at data from the 1999-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The NHANES is a regular survey designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.

The data showed that men who were obese at age 25 had a 23.1 percent likelihood of being class III obese after age 35. Men of normal weight at age 25 had a 1.1 percent likelihood of class III obesity after age 35.

Body mass index (BMI) is a calculation of body fat based on weight and height. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight. A BMI over 30 is considered obese. Class III obesity, the highest measure of BMI, is 40 or higher.

Dr. Dowd and team also found that women who were obese at age 25 had an even higher rate than men of class III obesity after age 35 — a rate of 46.9 percent. Women of normal weight at age 25 had a 4.8 percent chance of class III obesity after age 35.

The researchers noted that current weight is a better predictor for heart disease and diabetes risk than how long the person has been obese. These findings indicate that losing weight at any time may help reduce these risks no matter the length of previous obesity.

"This is good news in some respects, as overweight and obese young adults who can prevent additional weight gain can expect their biological risk factors to be no worse than those who reach the same level of BMI later in life," Dr. Dowd said in a press release.

"Duration of obesity may still have important implications for mobility and musculoskeletal disease, research questions that should be investigated. Prevention of weight gain at all ages should thus be a clinical and public health priority," added study co-author Anna Zajacova, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wyoming.

"The results of this study are not surprising," Rusty Gregory, a personal trainer and wellness coach in Austin, Texas and author of "Self-Care Reform: How to Discover Your Own Path to Good Health," told dailyRx News.

"Typically, obese people have established several unhealthy lifestyle behaviors that have led to their current condition. Be it a lack of confidence, information on how to go about losing weight or that there are health problems associated with their weight or that they even have a weight problem, can make the idea of weight loss seem overwhelming," Gregory said.

"Conquering small goals, identifying motivators/obstacles and gathering as much information about the weight loss process and the harmful affects of obesity on their health can go a long way in increasing the readiness and willingness needed to make life-giving and health-promoting behavioral changes," he said. "This information is essential to maintaining any weight loss program."

Dr. Dowd and team acknowledged that their study was limited by the use of self-reported data, which may have led to misreporting of weight.

This study was published May 6 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The authors listed neither funding nor disclosures.

Review Date: 
May 5, 2014
Last Updated:
May 6, 2014