One of the main characteristics of childhood obesity is its tendency to hang on, which underlines the importance of efforts to either stop it early, or prevent it from ever starting. Overweight and obese kids tend to become overweight and obese adults, with the associated risk of a shortened life expectancy. Age 70 is reckoned to be normal; anything before that is considered premature. The four major killers are coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and cancer, all of which are multifactorial.
In the summer of this year, The Lancet published a meta-study that examined 189 studies from all over the world. Amazingly, they were able to find 3.9 million subjects who neither smoked nor suffered from a long-term illness at the beginning of their respective studies. Both heavy smoking and serious illness can cause weight loss, so those were unwanted variables.
Naturally, no study of this kind can be unerringly precise. A lot of those people probably started smoking later, or came down with a serious illness. A certain amount of self-reporting is involved. Science attempts to be rigorous, but those nearly 200 studies will not all have been constructed with the same parameters.
Sometimes it is difficult to make comparisons that line up acceptably. Also:
The authors note that one important limitation is that their only measure of obesity was BMI, which does not assess fat distribution in different parts of the body, muscle mass, or obesity-related metabolic factors such as blood sugar or cholesterol.
Despite all these caveats, it is apparent that, overall, obesity is very much associated with unnecessarily early death, and the effect is much more pronounced in men. As summed up by BBC.com:
Overweight and obesity now cause about one in seven of all premature deaths in Europe and one in five of all premature deaths in North America.
Even though exact numbers are difficult to pin down, the basic truth of this had been widely assumed, and the meta-study confirmed it. Fat can make you die too soon, but some day, off in the distance. We got that — and meanwhile, other research showed that fat can seriously mess you up and maybe even kill you, while you’re still young.
A UCLA study was titled “Childhood obesity linked to more immediate health problems than previously thought,” and immediate means now. This study encompassed data on more than 43,000 subjects, derived from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, and was described as providing “the first comprehensive national profile of associations between weight status and a broad set of associated health conditions, or co-morbidities, that kids suffer from during childhood.”
While a great deal of research on childhood obesity has spotlighted the long-term health problems that emerge in adulthood, a new UCLA study focuses on the condition’s immediate consequences and shows that obese youngsters are at far greater risk than had been supposed.
The University’s message points out another important facet of the big picture — the ongoing need for two entirely different kinds of surveys:
The researchers add that while the strength of the current study lies in its large population base, future studies need to examine better longitudinal data to tease out causal relationships that cannot be inferred from a cross-sectional study.
Again, the elusive nature of precision in these matters is underlined by lead author Dr. Neal Halfon:
Obesity might be causing the co-morbidity, or perhaps the co-morbidity is causing obesity — or both might be caused by some other unmeasured third factor… An understanding of the association of obesity with other co-morbidities may provide important information about causal pathways to obesity and more effective ways to prevent it.
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Source: “The Lancet: Obesity linked to premature death, with greatest effect in men,” EurekAlert.org, 07/13/16
Source: “Obesity ‘puts men at greater risk of early death’,” BBC.com, 07/14/16
Source: “Childhood Obesity Linked to More Immediate Health Problems Than Previously Thought,” ScienceDaily.com, 01/14/13
Image by Elliott Brown on Flickr