Perhaps of little surprise to anyone, but important to verify nonetheless, obesity in adolescence appears to increase the risk of becoming severely obese as an adult, according to new research.
Natalie S. The, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues sought to determine the incidence and risk of severe obesity in adulthood among individuals who were obese during adolescence.
The study was conducted on 8,834 teens and young adults who were enrolled in the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in 1996. Researchers then followed up on participants at two later points in their early adult life.
Height and weight measures of the subjects and other research data were obtained at their homes. New cases of adult-onset severe obesity were calculated by sex, race/ethnicity, and adolescent weight status, and results were weighted for national representation.
In 1996, one percent of the teenagers were severely obese. Upon followup, 70.5 percent of those were found to have remained severely obese as adults.
Individuals with severe obesity (body mass index — or BMI — that is 40 or greater) encounter serious and potentially life-threatening health complications.
The researchers also found that individuals with severe obesity in adulthood had a higher adolescent BMI. The participants with severe obesity were more likely to be racial/ethnic minorities or women, with black women facing the highest rates.
Over the 13-year period between adolescence (1996) and adulthood (2007-2009), a total of 703 new cases of severe obesity in adulthood were observed, indicating a total incidence rate of 7.9 percent.
“A substantial proportion of obese adolescents became severely obese by their early 30s, with significant variation by sex,” according to the researchers. “Among individuals who were obese as adolescents, incident severe obesity was 37.1 percent in men and 51.3 percent in women.
“Incident severe obesity was highest among black women at 52.4 percent. Across all sex and racial/ethnic groups, less than 5 percent of individuals who were at a normal weight in adolescence became severely obese in adulthood,” the authors wrote.
Analysis indicated that obese adolescents were significantly more likely to develop severe obesity than normal-weight or overweight teens.
“The clinical implications of these observed trends are concerning given the comorbidities and chronic disease associated with severe obesity. Findings highlight the need for interventions prior to adulthood to prevent the progression of obesity to severe obesity, which may reduce severe obesity incidence and its potentially life-threatening consequences.”
“In 2000, an estimated 2.2 percent of adults, or 4.8 million individuals, were severely obese, with a disproportionately higher prevalence in women and racial/ethnic minorities,” the researchers noted in the study.
“Understanding which individuals are at risk of severe obesity is essential for determining when interventions would need to be implemented to prevent obese individuals from progressing to severe obesity.”
“Although observational studies have reported that the prevalences of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity have increased in recent years, individuals who are obese early in life have not been studied longitudinally to determine their risk of developing severe obesity in adulthood. This is the first study to do so.”
The study appears in the November 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.