July 1, 2021 — Teenagers with obesity were more likely than their slimmer peers to have a heart attack, type 2 diabetes, or (self-reported) poor health when they were in their 30s and 40s, a new study says.
Previous studies have reported worse health outcomes in older adults, but this is one of the first to look at risk in younger adults.
The teens with obesity were also more likely than other teens to still have obesity 24 years later, as well as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart failure, cancer, asthma, and sleep apnea.
The results are from a large U.S. study that examined how obesity at ages 11 to 18 affects health at ages 33 to 43.
The findings show that “adolescence is an important time period to prevent future diabetes and heart attack,” says lead author Jason M. Nagata, MD.
“Parents should encourage teenagers to develop healthy behaviors such as regular physical activity and [eating] balanced meals,” says Nagata, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Teenagers should know that being active, joining sports teams, and doing physical activity with friends” is important, he says.
Pediatricians, too, can help guide and support teenagers and their families to develop healthy habits, and doctors should ask young adults about their weight history when they are evaluating them for risk of heart disease.
But Nagata, who also treats adolescents with eating disorders, says that “while I think it’s important to adopt healthy behaviors — like a balanced diet and regular physical activity — I would discourage any teenagers from trying more extreme or disordered eating behaviors for weight loss.”
Other studies have shown that “when you use some of these distorted eating behaviors [including crash diets], people actually tend to gain more weight in the long run,” he says.
The study was published online June 21 as a research letter in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.