Obesity, hypertension and glucose intolerance in children are strongly associated with premature death, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The findings come in the same week that First Lady Michelle Obama has launched her ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, intended to tackle childhood obesity, and add to a growing body of research highlighting possible long-term health impacts for overweight children. According to government figures, 32 percent of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese.
The researchers wrote that their findings “might justify interventions that are intended to improve health and reduce the rates of premature death.”
Such interventions could directly affect the food and beverage industry, which has come under increasing pressure to take a lead on the issue, a call that many of industry’s major players have been heeding with a generally three-pronged approach: taking part in initiatives to limit advertising of unhealthy foods to children, reformulating items to reduce excess fat, sugar and salt, and sponsoring physical activity programs.
This latest study examined 4,857 Native American children without diabetes born between 1945 and 1984 at an average age of 11 years.
It found that the heaviest quarter had more than double the risk of premature death due to natural causes – such as heart disease, cancer, alcoholic liver disease, diabetes and infections – than those whose body mass index (BMI) put them in the lowest quartile of the population.
The researchers wrote: “Our observations, combined with those of other investigators, suggest that failure to reverse this trend may have wide-reaching consequences for the quality of life and longevity. Such evidence underscores the importance of preventing obesity starting in the early years of life.”
Meanwhile, mortality rates among those in the highest quartile for glucose intolerance – a disturbance in blood sugar regulation often seen as a precursor to type-2 diabetes – were 73 percent higher than for those in the lowest quartile.
However, although high cholesterol in adults has been linked to premature death, such a link was not observed for the children involved in this study.
The full study is available online by clicking here .