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A 40 year-long study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed children's health from their early years into their adult lives. It concluded that those who dealt with obesity as youngsters were significantly more likely to die prematurely.
The study was based on Native Americans born in the 1940s. It tracked their progress until the 1980s, at which point links between their early and later heath were assessed. Shockingly, among the 4,857 children who were analysed, 559 have now died. Youngsters with pre-diabetes or high blood pressure were among those most likely to face an early death. However, while these other factors were clearly influential, obesity was the most significant risk factor.
Obese children were twice as likely to die early from endogenous, or internal, causes, compared to those who had a normal weight.
The evidence comes at a time when childhood obesity is high on the agenda for both politicians and the media. In America, childhood obesity has tripled in recent years; one in three children are now overweight.
The First Lady, Michelle Obama has just launched a new campaign, which she hopes will reduce the startlingly high statistics. In Britain so many children have weight problems, that weight-loss surgery is now being offered on the NHS in worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile doctors are insisting that more exercise and a better balanced diet should be emphasised rather than straight medical intervention.
Weight-related problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are being found in increasing numbers of young people. Anyone concerned about a child's weight should consult with a health professional to plan the best course of action.