A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine emphasizes the long-term risks associated with childhood obesity. Specifically, researchers say, being obese as a child may double the risk of dying before the age of 55.
Researchers evaluated 4,857 American Indian children born between 1945 and 1984. The children, who lived in the area of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona and were at least half Pima or Tohono O’odham Indian, had data recorded about their body mass index, glucose tolerance, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Researchers then followed the participants for a median period of nearly 24 years, with half being followed for longer and half for less time.
During the course of the study, researchers found that 559 children developed diabetes. They also found that 166 of the participants died of natural causes before they reached the age of 55, while 393 died before reaching 55 from external causes such as homicide or car accidents.
Researchers divided the participants into four groups based on their BMI in order to compare premature death rates with body mass index. They found that 28.7% of the children were obese at the beginning of the study, according to their BMI. Children who had been in the top quartile for BMI had over twice the rate of death from natural causes before age 55 as those in the lowest quartile of BMI. Natural causes of death included alcoholic liver disease, cardiovascular disease, infections, cancer, diabetes, acute alcohol poisoning, and drug overdose. Body mass index did not effect the likelihood of dying from external causes.
While some have criticized the study as not being representative of American children in the greater population, the researchers say the study is relevant to high risk populations such as poor African Americans and Hispanics.
Other experts agree that the study shows the importance of developing initiatives to curb childhood obesity given the high burden of cardiovascular disease and obesity among these populations.