Health: Overweight teens are more likely to suffer poor health as adults even if they slim down

Overweight teenagers are more likely to suffer poor health, diabetes and an early HEART ATTACK as adults even if they slim down, study finds

  • Experts from the University of California, San Francisco studied 12,300 people
  • Each had self-reported health data from adolescence onwards for 24 years
  • The team found higher BMI in adolescence to be linked to higher BMI as adults 
  • But the negative health effects of early obesity were independent of adult BMI
  • These included a 8.8% higher risk of type 2 diabetes and 2.6% rise in poor health

Adults — regardless of their weight — are more likely to suffer poor health, diabetes and early heart attacks if they were overweight as teenagers, a study has found. 

Researchers led from the University of California, San Francisco studied the health of 12,300 adolescents for more than two decades as they passed into adulthood.

They found that higher body mass indices (BMI) in adolescence were linked to larger increases in BMI 24 years later, after entering adulthood.

However, even if subjects managed to slim down, they were still at an 8.8 per cent higher risk of type 2 diabetes and 2.6 per cent higher risk of general poor health.

According to the team, their findings add to evidence that both the age of obesity onset and time spent obese contribute to insulin resistance and atherosclerosis.

Paediatricians, they added, should be encouraging teens to develop healthy behaviours like exercising and eating balanced meals to combat later health issues.

Adults — regardless of their weight — are more likely to suffer poor health, diabetes and early heart attacks if they were overweight as teenagers, a study has found (stock image)


Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height.

Standard Formula:

BMI = (weight in pounds / (height in inches x height in inches)) x 703

Metric Formula:

BMI = (weight in kilograms / (height in meters x height in meters))


Under 18.5: Underweight

18.5–24.9: Healthy

25–29.9: Overweight

30 or greater: Obese

‘Adolescent BMI is a risk factor for poor health outcomes in adulthood, regardless of adult BMI,’ said paper author and paediatrics researcher Jason Nagata of the the University of California, San Francisco.

The finding, he added, ‘has significant implications for our understanding of cardiovascular disease onset.’ 

‘Health care providers should consider BMI history when assessing for cardiovascular and chronic disease risk.’ 

In their study, Professor Nagata and colleagues analysed self-reported health data on 12,300 individuals who were each tracked for 24 years as part of the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health.

Each of the participants was aged between 11–18 at the start of the study and, of the full cohort, around 51 per cent were female.  

The team focused on BMI z-scores — which are a measurement of relative weight adjusted for a child’s age and sex — and also accounted for other factors including race/ethnicity, education level, household income and tobacco/alcohol use.

The team found that the average baseline BMI of the participants was 22.4 kg/m², with each unit increase in the BMI z-score during adolescence being associated with a 4.17 kg/m² higher BMI 24 years later, during adulthood.

The team also found that a higher BMI as a teenager was linked to 2.6 per cent increase in the incidence of overall poor health, an 8.8 per cent higher risk of type 2 diabetes and an 0.8 percent increased risk of early heart attack (in one’s 30s-40s).

This, the team said, is the first study to demonstrate this adverse relationship in younger adults.

‘Our study suggests that adolescence is an important time period to optimize health and prevent early heart attacks, said Professor Nagata.

‘Paediatricians should encourage teens to develop healthy behaviours including physical activity and balanced meals.’

The full findings of the study were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.


Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.

A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9. 

Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.

Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age. 

For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.

Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese. 

The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.

This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.

Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.

Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.

Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.

Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers. 

This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.

Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.

Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults. 

And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.  

As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.