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Nearly 6 out of 10 of today’s children will be obese at 35, researchers say

Elementary students in Georgia ran on a track in 2013. Experts say physical activity and healthy diets are key to preventing childhood obesity.
Jaime Henry-White/Associated Press
Elementary students in Georgia ran on a track in 2013. Experts say physical activity and healthy diets are key to preventing childhood obesity.

Researchers at Harvard say that if current trends in child obesity continue, nearly six out of 10 of today’s children will have obesity when they are 35.

Excess weight in childhood is predictive of adult obesity, and only children who are at a healthy weight have a less than 50 percent chance of having obesity as adults, the researchers also found.

The study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health was published in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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“Our findings highlight the importance of prevention efforts for all children as they grow up, and of providing early interventions for children with obesity to minimize their risk of serious illness in the future,” Zachary Ward, programmer/analyst at the Chan School’s Center for Health Decision Science and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

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The stakes are high. Adult obesity has been linked to increased risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, Ward said.

The study, which used new computational methods and a novel statistical approach, found that three out of four 2-year-olds with obesity will still have obesity at age 35. The likelihood is even higher for children with severe obesity, a condition that currently affects 4.5 million children, the university said in a statement.

But even children without obesity face a high risk of adult obesity, the study found.

Senior author Steven Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology at the Chan School, said the study highlights the critical importance of prevention programs that start at an early age.

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He noted that there are “plenty of cost-effective strategies . . . that promote healthy foods, beverages, and physical activity within school and community settings.”

Researchers defined obesity in the children as a body mass index (BMI) greater than the 95th percentile.

 Here is a body-mass index calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will tell you both your child’s BMI and their BMI percentile.

 The Harvard researchers defined adult obesity as a BMI greater than 30. Here is an adult BMI calculator.