Severe obesity in young children could cut life expectancy by half, researchers warn

UK

Severely obese young children could cut their life expectancy by around half, according to a new study, but losing weight could add years back on.

Analysis led by Germany-based life sciences consultancy stradoo used data from 50 existing studies to establish the impact of childhood obesity on life expectancy and type 2 diabetes.

Researchers used a body mass index (BMI) z score, which measures how much a youngster’s weight deviates from their normal range, to estimate obesity – the higher the score, the more a child weighs.

The research found children who were severely obese by age four, with a BMI z score of 3.5, had a life expectancy of 39 if they didn’t lose weight.

Those with a score of 2.0 had a life expectancy of 65 without weight loss, while children with a score of 2.5 had one of 50 years.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the latest figures suggest life expectancy for men in the UK is 78.6 and 82.6 for women.

“The impact of childhood obesity on life expectancy is profound,” stradoo’s Dr Urs Wiedemann said, adding it should be considered a “life-threatening disease”.

“It is vital that treatment isn’t put off until the development of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or other warning signs but starts early. Early diagnosis should and can improve quality and length of life.”

The team found severely obese four-year-olds were also 27% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes by the age of 25 and had a 45% chance of developing the condition by 35.

Children with BMI z scores of two at age four, however, had a 6.5% chance of developing type 2 diabetes by 25 and a 22% chance by 35.

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But weight loss can reverse the chances, with a child cutting their score from 4.0 to 2.0 gaining a life expectancy of 64, rather than 37 – while the risk of diabetes falls from 55% to 29%.

While it’s “widely accepted” childhood obesity increases the risk of certain conditions and can cut life expectancy, Dr Wiedemann said evidence on the scale of the impact is “patchy”.

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“A better understanding of the precise magnitude of the long-term consequences and the factors that drive them could help inform prevention policies and approaches to treatment, as well as improve health and lengthen life,” he added.

The study has been presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Venice.

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