By Dr. Adam Smith, Pediatric Center
A rare study that tracked thousands of children through adulthood found the heaviest youngsters were more than twice as likely as the thinnest to die prematurely, before age 55, of illness or a self-inflicted injury. Youngsters with a condition called pre-diabetes were at almost double the risk of dying before 55, and those with high blood pressure were at some increased risk. But obesity was the factor most closely associated with an early death, researchers said.
The study, published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed data gathered from Pima and Tohono O’odham Indians, whose rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes soared decades before weight problems became widespread among other Americans. It is one of the largest studies to have tracked children for several decades after detailed information on weight and risk factors like high cholesterol were gathered.
Nearly one in three American children is now considered to be either overweight or obese. The new study analyzed data gathered about 4,857 nondiabetic American Indian children born between 1945 and 1984, when the children were 11 years old on average, and assessed the extent to which body mass index, glucose tolerance, blood pressure and total cholesterol levels predicted premature death.
By 2003, 559 participants had died, including 166 who died of causes other than accidents and homicides, like cardiovascular disease, infections, cancer, diabetes, alcohol poisoning or drug overdose and a large number who died of alcoholic liver disease, which the study’s authors suggested might be exacerbated by diabetes.
Adults who had the highest body mass index scores as children were 2.3 times as likely to have died early as those with the lowest scores.