Obese teens become severely obese adults
November 9th, 2010
04:17 PM ET

Obese teens become severely obese adults

Adolescents who are obese are 16 times more likely to become severely obese adults than normal weight or overweight teens, according to new research in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A severely obese person carries an extra 80 to 100 pounds more than someone of normal weight, putting them at increased risk for multiple health problems and a shorter life expectancy.

Researchers analyzed data of 9,000 adolescents covering a span of 13 years to try to determine how weight as a young person influenced weight as an adult. The subjects, who ranged in age from 12 to 21 when the study begin, were divided into three weight groups: normal, overweight, and obese.

"We found that for the teenage girls who were obese, 51 percent of them became severely obese by their early 30's. For males it was 37 percent," explains study author Penny Gordon-Larsen, Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In contrast less than 5 percent of normal weight teens went on to become severely obese adults.

"We need to help prevent kids from gaining weight because once that weight is gained, especially at the severe obesity level, it's very hard to get people to lose weight," explains Gordon-Larsen.

The researchers also found that teens who were overweight but not obese when the study started, more than 15 percent of the girls and 6 percent of the boys went on to become severely obese adults. Overweight African-American girls were more likely than their white peers to bump up to the highest weight category.

Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children's Hospital Boston says this study confirms evidence of the severe impact of childhood obesity. "This underscores the importance of addressing childhood obesity as an urgent issue and not a condition that kids can be expected to grow out of," he said.

What does it mean to be severely obese? Normal weight for a woman 5 feet 4 is about 135 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight is about 150 pounds, obese 180 pounds, and severely obese an alarming 235 pounds.

And those added pounds increase a person's risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers and other conditions.

More than one in six U.S. teens is obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, numbers experts find alarming.

"The epidemic of obesity in this generation of children may shorten life expectancy for the first time since the civil war, unless something is done about it," explains Ludwig.

Researchers say the first step is to intervene early in life to help children develop good health habits before they become adolescents.

"We know from a range of studies that we need to tackle this at the individual level, we need to tackle it at schools, pediatric clinics, in the environment. We need to do a lot of different kinds of things. It's not just one solution," says Gordon-Larsen.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Captain Obvious

    What an amazing scientific discovery

    November 9, 2010 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daina

      No kidding...someone is getting paid to tells us fat kids grow up to be fat adults?

      November 10, 2010 at 01:17 | Report abuse |
  2. William Luther

    Ya think????

    November 9, 2010 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tom

    The problem with these studies is that they do not take into account body structure. These are as bad as using BMI charts for calculating obesity. For example, according to BMI charts I am at over a 40. But to say that everybody who is 6'3" should only be 180 pounds is ridiculous. Please come out with a better system for analyzing obesity vs. body structure.

    November 9, 2010 at 21:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Reality Check

      Although BMI does have many flaws, a BMI of >40 is morbidly obese no matter how you look at it and you should be concerned about your health. 180 pounds may be low for someone 6'3", but you should be able to get down to 220-240. The only body type that is really misrepresented are bodybuilders/athletes, who have tons of lean muscle mass and are often left out of BMI studies.

      November 9, 2010 at 23:36 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      That is because BMI tests are not gender specific as the should be. Now, at 5'10" and 135 lbs I look thin but I do not look unhealthy, I am a small-boned female & my BMI places me in 'normal' category however I would look cachectic if I were a man. That having been said my husband is strong & rather large boned. 6' tall & 170 lbs. People are still pushing ideal body weight up too much...my 6'4" brother is well built @ 200 lbs. While gender differences should be taken into account as I do not expect a woman & man of the same height with ideal body weights to weigh the same; bone structure & muscle mass account for a large difference. That having been said if your BMI is 40 you are not ideal weight male or female.

      November 10, 2010 at 01:15 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      Well, while there are gender factors omitted a bmi over 40 is too much anyway you look at it. 180 might be too thin but 250 or so is too fat even at 6'3"...enough of this 'I'm a big guy' excuse. Around 200 lbs at 6'3" would be closer to ideal for a man.

      November 10, 2010 at 01:22 | Report abuse |
  4. dane

    duuuhhhh!being fat is a lifestyle, not a phase.

    November 9, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 9, 2010 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Lo

    Well the first thing that should be down is make it so that healthy food is cheaper than junk or fast food! A lot of people simply can't afford healthy food. For instance, you take a case of Ramen noodles vs a grilled chicken breast with a side of steamed veggies and see which one is cheaper; or compare the price of a salad (does not come with a drink) to a combo at a fast food chain.

    November 9, 2010 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daina

      Sounds as if you already spend too much time @ fast food places and as for a package of Top Ramen it wouldn't be ideal nutrionally but if that is all one had for lunch they wouldn't exceed any caloric standards for one meal. Problem is they think this is an appetizer.

      November 10, 2010 at 01:35 | Report abuse |
  7. Rico

    It's exactly as Lo said, healthy food is more expensive than junk food. And after spending their parent's government check on $100 jeans, $300 iPhones, etc., there's very little left for healthy food as they sit on their backsides listening to their 99 cent iTunes.

    November 10, 2010 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daina

      LOL, too true...a lot of people can eat healthy if they made their health a priority. As for 'fast food' comparisons it's cheaper yet to make your own lunch & stay away from those places altogether. Lame ass excuse & you lost all credibibility when you compared fast-food offerings (do your homework; fast food salads are leden with fat) as for the drink anyone acquainted with water?

      November 10, 2010 at 01:29 | Report abuse |
  8. JCizzle

    What a breakthrough.

    November 10, 2010 at 04:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Rob

    A big part of the problem with life-long obesity is habituating to a damaging lifestyle. Eating habits are deeply ingrained in childhood and as you mature through highschool. It's not surprising that families tend to be "bigger" or "smaller" together. Yes, genetics plays a role in it, but eating habits are a huge part of of the equation. The key here, as Professor Gordon-Larsen pointed out at the end of the article, is to prevent the problem from becoming a disaster. Approaching a teen about weight issues can be a sensitive proposition, but it's necessary to tell your overweight or obese kids that what they are doing is hurting them, will likely get worse, and that there are ways to fix the problem! When children feel supported by their parents and family in their efforts, they will try harder and often do better in their efforts towards fat loss and health. The solution for overweight and obese kids HAS to start at home. They can't do it alone. Even though a child might be almost grown up, their parents support and function as a role model still plays a big role in their development and future success. Teach good habits, be a good example of proper eating and health, and discuss objectively your child's needs and how to meet them. Rational, effective nutrition for fat loss and long-term health: http://www.NutritionPerfected.com

    November 10, 2010 at 07:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 10, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. masood ahmad

    Overweight Calculator:
    A big part of the problem with life-long obesity is habituating to a damaging lifestyle. Eating habits are deeply ingrained in childhood and as you mature through highschool. It's not surprising that families tend to be "bigger" or "smaller" together.
    Well, while there are gender factors omitted a bmi over 40 is too much anyway you look at it. 180 might be too thin but 250 or so is too fat even at 6'3"...enough of this 'I'm a big guy' excuse. Around 200 lbs at 6'3" would be closer to ideal for a man.

    November 15, 2010 at 03:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Major Jason Rose, Student, Command and General Staff College, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort. Leavenworth, Kansas

    The views expressed in this blog entry are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

    “The epidemic of obesity” that Dr. Ludwig refers to has the potential to become a threat to national security. Data indicates that obesity is putting the readiness of our armed forces at risk. However, the Army is taking meaningful steps to address this significant concern.

    While the U.S. military is stretched thin fighting two wars and meeting other global commitments, the pool from which recruits are drawn is shrinking due to obesity. U.S. Army Accessions Command data indicates that over a quarter of all young Americans 17 to 24 years old are obese and as a result, ineligible for military service. Even some of those who met entry standards still struggle with weight problems. The Department of Defense estimates that 1,200 new recruits are discharged every year for failure to stay within weight standards. A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion estimates the costs for training replacements for those discharged due to obesity at over $60 million annually. The same study goes on to say that this amount, “pales in comparison, however, to the cost of treating the obesity-related problems of military personnel and their families under the military’s health care system.” In May 2010 Defense Secretary Robert Gates put these expenditures in the spotlight when he said, “health-care costs are eating the Defense Department alive, rising from $19 billion a decade ago to roughly $50 billion.”

    An emerging program may help to reverse the obesity trend among those teens and young adults who enlist in the Army. Lieutenant General (LTG) Mark Hertling recently introduced the “Solider Athlete” initiative in an effort to improve the health and fitness of Soldiers entering the Army. A recent Army Times article outlined the three part program, specifically highlighting the “Soldier Fueling Initiative.” The main thrust of this effort is to help Soldiers learn healthy eating habits while attending initial military training. As the article highlights, “Big changes are coming to hundreds of (dining facilities). Soda fountains will be replaced with milk and juices. Half of all vending machine snacks will be healthy. Short orders will be cut back. Fried foods are out, and baked foods are in.” Although these changes will be limited to more than 200 training sites, the Army is considering ways to implement this program across the entire force.

    I feel Army leaders should fully embrace this and the other elements of LTG Hertling’s Soldier Athlete Initiative. His emphasis on improving Solider nutrition combined with an improved physical training program (another element of his initiative) will greatly enhance military readiness and significantly reduce health care costs.

    January 9, 2011 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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