The negative health effects of being overweight or obese can be seen as early as age 17, based on a study published in Circulation that highlights the importance of weight-loss efforts beginning at a young age.
Known as the ALSPAC study (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children), this study followed the health and lifestyles of English children beginning at birth. The study was designed to investigate factors that influence normal childhood development and growth. The study involves more than 14,500 families in Bristol, England.
The goal of the recent analysis was to see how body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of height and weight, impacts cardiovascular health in young adults.
In addition to collecting standard health information through questionnaires and exams, the ALSPAC study included genetic testing, which can be used to conduct novel types of analysis. According to authors, the genetic information helps better assess cause and effect relationships in health and allows for smaller sample sizes in studies.
The recent analysis included roughly 3,100 of these participants whose weight, lifestyle and cardiovascular health was assessed at age 17. A small group of individuals (418 participants) with full genetic data and consent also had their health assessed at age 21.
After analyzing both traditional and genetic data, researchers found that higher body mass index is associated with poorer heart health, even in youth. Participants with a higher BMI were more likely to have higher blood pressure, increased cardiac output and larger hearts than those with lower BMIs—all of which are indicators of poorer heart health.
Based on current guidelines, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25. A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is in the obese range.
What findings show, according to authors, is the importance of addressing overweight and obesity early in life. This study suggests that excess weight can have a negative impact on heart health in one’s youth. Weight loss efforts should start at a young age to prevent negative health effects.
However, combatting childhood overweight and obesity remains a challenge, as evidenced by research. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested a three-year weight-loss program in underserved preschool children in Nashville, TN. The study included 304 pairs of children and parents, half of whom received community-based weight loss programming and coaching. The other half participated in educational sessions that did not focus on weight. Unfortunately, the program was unsuccessful as there was no difference in children’s weight in either group after three years.
However, there are a number of other studies that have shown promise and researchers continue to explore interventions to promote a healthy weight in children. There’s no question that maintaining a healthy weight early in life is critical for promoting heart health. Continued efforts to help educate and enable families to make healthier lifestyle choices are needed to combat childhood obesity and prevent heart disease—the No. 1 killer of Americans.