Childhood obesity or being overweight at childhood, as shown in two new studies from Denmark, can set the stage for killer diseases in adulthood.
According to the past studies, being overweight or obese boosts an adult’s risk of developing health problems affecting the heart and brain. But none of the researches was able to show that the same was true when that weight gain occurred in childhood.
Presented this month at the European Obesity Summit in Sweden, are the two new studies to prove that child obesity can lead to adult killer diseases.
Obesity is not assessed based on weight alone, because for the same weight, a tall person will be leaner than a short person. Therefore, the height too, is key and that is why both height and weight are added up to calculate someone’s Body Mass Index, BMI — the higher your BMI, the fatter you would become.
How ChildHood Obesity Affects Your Health At Adulthood
Line Klingen Haugaard studied childhood obesity and how it affects health. She works at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Her team focused on health records for 307,000 Danes who had been born between 1930 and 1987.
More than 3,500 women and almost 5,400 men at one time had suffered an ischemic (Ih-SKEEM-ik) stroke — a situation where blood stops flowing to a part of the brain. Such strokes can prove deadly.
The researchers looked back at the early school records for all of the adults. They calculated the BMI for each of the men and women when they had been only 7 to 13 years old. (Denmark is one of the few nations that can do this, because its government keeps detailed, long-term health records for its citizens.)
They discovered that people who had a higher BMI by age 13 faced a higher than normal risk of early stroke in adulthood.
‘Early‘, in this case, means that a person had a stroke sometime between the ages of 25 and 55. After 55, childhood BMI appeared to play no role in stroke risk.
Example: Consider a middle-school girl who was 156.7 centimeters (62 inches) tall and weighed 51.4 kilograms (113 pounds). Compared with a girl who was the same height but weighed 6.8 kilograms (15 pounds) less, the first girl’s adult risk of stroke would be 26 percent higher.
A similar trend emerged in adult men who had been overweight as boys.
And as the BMI in childhood climbed, so did the early stroke risk that was seen in someone’s adult years, the new study found.
What might explain this?
Haugaard suspected that a higher BMI could cause the brain’s blood vessels to slowly harden and narrow, beginning in childhood. And that, she worries, could disrupt the flow of blood to the brain, fostering an ischemic stroke in early to middle adulthood.
“If you have already reached the age of 55, other factors responsible for stroke become more important than any childhood factors,” she said.
By other factors, she means diseases such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. (High blood pressure occurs when blood flows with too much force through blood vessels. Type 2 diabetes is a condition when the body is not able to use a hormone called insulin. This hormone is important for the body to process glucose. People who have type 2 diabetes have abnormal levels of glucose in their blood, but also high risks of heart disease.)
Adult Cancer Risk also linked to Overweight Childhood
A second study which focused on Danish adults who had been overweight between the ages of 7 to 13, showed that they face a heightened risk of colon cancer — which affects the biggest part of the large intestine. Any abnormal growth of cells in this part of the body might develop into cancer.
Britt Wang Jensen works at Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen. She and her colleagues gathered childhood BMI data for about 250,000 people born between 1930 and 1972. They then linked those data with national records on cancer patients.
Nearly 2,700 people from the original group developed colon cancer. And the higher their childhood BMI had been, the higher an adult’s risk of colon cancer turned out to be.
Here’s another way to understand the findings: Let’s compare two boys — Jack and Tom — who were both born in the 1950s. They had the same height. Jack had an average weight.
Tom weighed 5.9 kilograms (13 pounds) more than him. In adulthood, Tom had a 9 percent higher risk of colon cancer than Jack.
Important Message from the Studies on Risks of Childhood Obesity
Stephen Daniels, a doctor who treats kids at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora says the new findings are important and fit with what might be expected.
The major strengths of the two studies on ‘childhood obesity’ are the large populations and the lengths of the follow-ups.
Both studies point to why it’s important to maintain a healthy weight at every age. Indeed, eating well in childhood and maintaining healthy levels of exercise are some of the most important things for kids and their parents to think about.