Overweight at 25: Higher risk of early death

UNC-CHAPEL HILL (US) —Young adults who carry extra weight are more likely to die early—even if they slim down when they get older.

“People who are overweight as young adults might think they are only hurting their appearance, and believe they’ll be fine if they lose the weight when they’re older,” says study author June Stevens, distinguished professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “This study suggests that’s not true. That extra weight does have an impact on lifelong health.”

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The study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed the risk of dying was 21 percent higher in young adults with a higher body mass index and still 28 percent higher when adjusting for other risk factors such as smoking status, physical activity, and alcohol consumption.

“If you made everybody’s weight gain over those intervening years the same, there was still an effect of being heavier at age 25 on increased mortality,” says Stevens. “BMI in young adulthood matters. You can’t just make up for it by losing weight later. You need to be concerned about your BMI throughout your young adulthood.”

Being overweight at age 25 has a greater impact on men than women and also on black women than white women. But the impact of obesity early on in life was negligible in black men when adjusting for weight change throughout adulthood.

“I don’t really know what’s going on there,” Stevens says. “I think it’s interesting, but we don’t have an explanation now.”

Over the past 30 years, rates of obesity and overweight have tripled among young men (ages 20-39) and more than tripled among young women.

“Many studies show that people tend to gain weight when they go off to college, when they get married, and at other turning points in their lives,” Stevens says.

“This study shows us how important it is to avoid gaining the weight in the first place. We have to concentrate on obesity and overweight prevention. Our lives and our health depend on it.”

The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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