Computer modeling, using current national data, estimated that 57%
of children ages 2 to 19 in 2016 will be obese by the time they are
35 years old.
To put that in perspective, the current rate of obesity among
35-year-olds is 35% to 40%, lead study author Zachary Ward of the
Center for Health Decision Science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School
of Public Health in Boston told Reuters Health in a telephone
"It seems the excess weight gained in childhood puts kids on a
trajectory that persists," he said, recommending that "children with
obesity now could benefit from early intervention" such as a better
diet with fewer sugar-laden snacks and improved physical education
programs in schools.
Non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be obese than
whites and those disparities were already present at age 2, the
researchers report online November 29 in The New England Journal of
The estimate comes at a time when obesity rates have stabilized
among children ages 6 to 11 and even declined for ages 2 to 5. But
rates have continued to rise among older Americans.
About 6% of U.S. children, 4.6 million, already have severe obesity
(BMI, 35 or higher).
"Severely obese children are at especially high risk for adult
obesity,” the study team writes. Their chances of not being obese at
age 35 are just 21% for 2-year-olds, dropping to about 6% for
The new analysis was an attempt to predict how a child's current
weight might influence his or her obesity risk in adulthood. It used
height and weight data from a nationally representative sample of
41,567 children and adults.
"In some ways, this is a surprising finding just because of the
sheer magnitude of the problem," Ward said. "In other ways, it's not
surprising when you look at how trends in weight gain and obesity
have been going over the past 40 years. In some parts of the
country, we're already approaching that level of obesity. But this
could be a new normal, the way some trends are going."
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The researchers projected that among obese children, the likelihood
that they would continue to be obese by age 35 increased with age.
Obese 2-year-olds had a 75% chance; obese 19-year-olds had an 88%
Conversely, children who were not obese had a lower risk of being
obese at 35, and those odds continued to decline with age - from 58%
for children at age 2 to 44% for 19-year-olds.
"Only those children with a current healthy weight have less than a
50% chance of becoming obese by the age of 35 years,” the study team
The research does not examine solutions. But the authors cite a 2015
study in the journal Health Affairs that concluded the three most
cost-effective strategies for addressing childhood obesity would be
a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, setting
nutritional standards for all food sold in schools (outside school
meals) and the elimination of the tax subsidy that food companies
tap when they advertise unhealthy food to children.
N Engl J Med 2017.
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