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The link between childhood obesity and midlife health crisis examined

Obese ten-year-olds are 25% more likely to suffer diabetes and high blood pressure by midlife, says new study

Obesity in childhood has been linked to multiple health problems in later life by a new study from University College London (UCL).

The research suggested that more than a third of middle-aged adults have multiple health problems, such as recurrent back problems, mental ill-health, high blood pressure, diabetes and high-risk drinking – with an increased risk for people who were overweight or obese by the age of ten.

Researchers from UCL have been tracking almost 8,000 “Generation X” adults since they were born and found that 34% aged between 46 and 48 have two or more long-term health conditions, reports The Telegraph

Those who were obese ten-year-olds were 25% more likely to suffer the combination of diabetes and high blood pressure by midlife. For every one-point decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI) by the age of ten, there was a 3% fall in the risk of midlife health problems. 

“Lower birthweight, and emotional problems in adolescence also increased the chance of multiple chronic health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and back pain, in middle age,” reports the paper. 

The research, published in the BMC Public Health journal, is said to be the first major study to track the impact of childhood obesity over a lifetime.

While the findings were “not directly compared with previous generations”, the paper researchers said it suggested “a decline in healthy lifestyles”. 

The lead author on the study, Dr Dawid Gondek, said: “This study provides concerning new evidence about the state of the nation’s health in midlife.

“It shows that a substantial proportion of the population are already suffering from multiple long-term physical and mental health problems in their late 40s, and also points to stark health inequalities which appear to begin early in childhood.”

According to government data, obesity is “one of the biggest health crises the country faces”, costing the NHS a staggering £6bn a year. 

Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – while one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese, according to government figures. 

Last week, the government announced a new strategy aimed at tackling what it dubbed “the obesity time bomb”, with a renewed focus on managing the weight of the nation “brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from Covid-19”.

The strategy includes a national rewards programme where “loyalty points” could be accumulated by buying healthier foods and increasing exercise, which could be exchanged for discounts, free tickets and other possible incentives.

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