Generational Shift in Obesity Can Lead to Health Risks

A new study by the University of Michigan (UM) Health
System on obesity trends shows Americans are getting heavier younger and
carrying the extra weight for longer periods over their lifetime.

As a result, the study suggests the impact on chronic
diseases and life expectancy may be worse than previously thought.

Researchers report that 20% of those born from 1966 to
1985 were obese by the ages of 20years to 29 years. Among their parents, those
born from 1946 to 1955, that level of obesity was not reached until the ages of
30years to 39 years, not until the ages of 40 years to 49 years for individuals
born between1936-1945, and obesity prevalence was even later – during the
50s – for those born between 1926-1935.

Further research is needed to understand the future
effect the obesity trend will have on diabetes rates and mortality.

“Many people have heard that Americans are getting
heavier,” Joyce Lee, MD, MPH, lead author and a pediatric endocrinologist
at the UM Mott Children’s Hospital and assistant professor in the
department of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the UM Medical School,
said in a news release. “But it’s very important to understand who
the obesity epidemic is affecting. Our research indicates that higher numbers
of young and middle-age American adults are becoming obese at younger and
younger ages.”

  Joyce Lee
  Joyce Lee

Evidence shows body mass index increases with age, and
children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults.

The prediction, made in 2005, for a reduced life
expectancy in the 21st century, was based on obesity prevalence from the period
1988 to 1994, the mid-point of the obesity epidemic, and included much older
adults, born 1885 to 1976, a generation that had much lower obesity rates over
their lifetime.

Obesity is a well-known contributor to type 2 diabetes,
cardiovascular disease, disability and premature death.

The federally funded UM study shows obesity trends were
worse for women and blacks, a bad sign for reversing racial disparities in
health, UM authors said. Among 20- to 29-year-olds, born 1976 to 1985, 20% of
whites were obese compared to 35% of blacks in that age group.

“What is particularly worrisome is that obesity
trends are worse for blacks compared to whites,” Lee said. “Black
Americans already experience a higher burden of obesity-related diseases and
the obesity trends will likely magnify those racial disparities in

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