WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to be overweight or obese adults and more likely to suffer early heart disease and death, two new studies conclude.
The first, out of Denmark, found that large children, especially boys, are at an increased risk of coronary heart disease as adults.
The second, based on a computer model, found that overweight adolescents are more likely to end up with heart disease and even dying in early adulthood.
"Teenage and childhood weight does matter," said Dr. Thomas R. Kimball, a pediatric cardiologist with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "This is not a problem of middle-aged adults. This is a problem that we have to face as a society in our children."
"When you see a shift at this level across the entire population, it really suggests that this is a major public health problem and requires intervention that really needs to be reinforced at every level of policy makers, every level of institutions," said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, lead author of the computer modeling study.
"This is more than just a problem of overweight adolescents and their parents. It's a problem that requires really a concerted effort at federal, state, local policy levels to reinforce the availability of healthy foods for kids and the availability of physical activity. We really want to prevent obesity before it starts," said Bibbins-Domingo, who is assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics and the Robert Wood Johnson Harold Amos Medical Faculty Scholar at the University of California, San Francisco.
Both studies are published in the Dec. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The overweight and obesity crisis is reaching epidemic proportions around the world. In the United States, federal statistics estimate that 9 million adolescents (17 percent of the population) are overweight and 80 percent of overweight adolescents grow up to be obese adults. Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1970.
Worldwide, children are becoming heavier at younger and younger ages. In the United States, 19 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 11 are overweight.
Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other ills.
The first study looked at a group of almost 277,000 Danish children -- all schoolchildren in Copenhagen -- from 1930 to 1976.
Out of that initial group, more than 10,200 men and 4,300 women were identified whose childhood body-mass index (BMI) data were available and who had received a diagnosis of coronary heart disease (CHD) or died of CHD as adults.
Boys with a higher BMI at 7 to 13 years of age and girls with a higher BMI from 10 to 13 years of age had a higher risk of a heart disease event in adulthood, the researchers found.
The authors used as an example a 13-year-old boy who weighs 11.2 kilograms (24.6 pounds) more than average boy his age. He now has a 33 percent increase in the probability of having a coronary event before he turns 60, the Danish team said.
"It's scary," Kimball said. "We knew that if you're an overweight kid, you're at a higher risk to be an overweight adult. This study goes a step further. It's proving that you have an increased risk of cardiovascular events as early as 25 years of age."
The second study projected the number of overweight adults based on the number of overweight adolescents in 2000.
Using a computer model, it predicted that up to 37 percent of men and 44 percent of women will be obese when these people -- now teenagers -- turn 35 in 2020.
This could result in up to 5,000 additional deaths from heart disease and 45,000 heart attacks, cardiac arrests and related events by 2035 among this group of young adults. It would raise the death toll from obesity-related coronary heart disease by 19 percent.
"To some extent, we're not surprised. We know it's not good to be overweight at any age but we were really struck by the magnitude of this increase," said Bibbins-Domingo. "We're modeling a young adult population 35 to 50 years. These are people who should be working and raising families, not worrying about heart disease, and we're suggesting more will be hospitalized for heart attacks, will need chronic medication to manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and many more will actually die before the age of 50."
To learn more about the government's We Can! Program regarding childhood obesity, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.