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Childhood Obesity Linked to Premature Death

25 January, 2013

ISLAMABAD: Obese children have double the risk for premature death compared to that of children having a normal weight, and children with pre-diabetes also face twice the risk of an early demise. In addition, children who have high blood pressure are at an increased risk of dying young.

A recent study of about 4,857 non-diabetic American Indian children born between 1945 and 1984 found that childhood obesity was linked to the occurrence of an early death. At the average age of 11 years, factors such as body mass index (BMI), glucose tolerance, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels of each child were assessed in predicting the likelihood of premature death.

Findings revealed that obese children had a much greater likelihood of dying prior to reaching the age of 55, due to illness or self-inflicted injury. The results of the study indicate that childhood obesity can cause grave long-term effects on health.

A total of 559 of the study participants were deceased by 2003. Among these deaths, 166 were due to causes other than accidents and homicides including infections, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, alcohol poisoning, and drug overdose. In addition, a high number of the deaths were caused by alcoholic liver disease that may have been exacerbated by diabetes.

Adult subjects having the highest BMI scores as children were found to be 2.3 times more likely to have died prematurely as those having the lowest BMI scores. In addition, those having the highest glucose levels were 73 percent more likely to have died early.

The study, recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, is one of the largest to have followed children well into adulthood, over a period spanning several decades, after having gathered detailed information on weight along with other risk factors. The study used data gathered from Pima and Tohono O’odham Indians, among whom rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes began to climb alarmingly many years prior to the rise of weight problems among other Americans.

According to lead researcher Paul William Franks, an associate professor of experimental medicine and head of the genetic epidemiology and clinical research group at Umea University Hospital in Umea, Sweden, “The results of this study suggest that obesity prevention should begin in early childhood. This will involve ensuring our children eat healthy, well-balanced diets and maintain physically active lifestyles.”

Almost 33 percent of American children are either overweight or obese. Franks noted that parents should be role models for their children in regards to healthy eating and exercise.

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