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Obese Teens at Risk for Severe Adult Obesity

Study Shows 37% of Obese Boys and 51% of Obese Girls Become Severely Obese Adults
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 9, 2010 -- Obese teens are at risk of becoming severely obese as adults, according to a new study.

"What's unique about this study is, we are following them over 13 years," says researcher Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

She expected to see an increased risk of severe obesity during young adulthood in those teens who were obese, but the percentages were higher than she anticipated, she tells WebMD.

"Half of the obese female teens developed severe obesity by their 30s, and 37% of the obese male teens developed severe obesity," she says.

Severe obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater. "When we are talking about severe obesity, we are talking about 80 to 100 pounds over normal body weight," Gordon-Larsen says.

The excess weight carries with it an increased risk of health complications, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis.

The study is published in TheJournal of the American Medical Association.

Tracking Obese Teens

While much research has shown that obesity and severe obesity have risen in recent years, there has been less research that looks at those who are obese early in life to see what happens as they enter young adulthood, Gordon-Larsen says.

She tracked 8,834 participants in the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, ages 12 to 21 when they entered the study in 1996. She followed them into adulthood, when they were ages 24 to 33 in 2007-2009.

Weight and height were measured during in-home surveys and body mass index was calculated. Participants came from 80 high schools and 52 middle schools and are representative of the U.S. population.

At the study's start in 1996, just 1% of the teens, or 79, were severely obese. Sixty of those, or 70.5%, remained severely obese in adulthood.

By 2009, 703 new cases of severe obesity -- or 7.9% of all the participants -- were found in those young adults who weren't severely obese as teens. Those 703 were more likely to have a higher BMI as a teen than those who didn't become severely obese as young adults.

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