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Childhood obesity as a predictor of morbidity in adulthood

Posted on 2 November 2015

Childhood obesity is one of the most important public health challenges of the 21st century. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, and adult obesity is linked with an increased risk of disease such as type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But does that mean that children’s body mass index (BMI) is good at predicting these conditions in adulthood? Researchers from CRD and St George’s, University of London, conducted a systematic review to address this important issue.

The review found that although childhood obesity is associated with increased risks of adult diabetes, heart disease and a range of cancers, the increase in risk is not large enough for childhood BMI to be a good predictor of these diseases. This is because the majority of adult obesity-related disease occurs in adults who had a healthy weight in childhood.  

Alexis Llewellyn, Research Fellow at CRD and co-author of this publication, said that “this study has important implications for public health. Although childhood obesity is a major public health issue, interventions that only focus on overweight and obese children are unlikely to be sufficient if we want to significantly reduce the overall burden of disease associated with obesity.” The authors suggested that reducing the risk of adult morbidities may be better achieved using effective population-wide strategies, for instance school-based interventions that promote healthy eating, physical activity and positive body image.

Llewellyn A, Simmonds M, Owen CG, Woolacott N. Childhood obesity as a predictor of morbidity in adulthood: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev 2015 Oct 6. [Epub ahead of print]