Surprise – Adolescent Obesity Leads To Later Heart Disease and Diabetes

September 12, 2017
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Well, probably not a surprise at all. The seeds of coronary artery disease (CAD) are laid down early and over long periods. But given our current pandemic of obesity beginning in childhood, should we worry about an epidemic of chronic disease like diabetes and CAD in the years to come? The clear answer is a resounding “Yes.”

There has been a long term study of military men in the Israeli Defense Force. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine, April 7, 2011 reports on what happened over an average follow-up of 17 years after army induction at age 17 for those who chose to remain in the military after the required three years. This amounted to 37,674 healthy men followed for about 650,000 person years. Among them, 1173 developed diabetes type 2 over time and 327 developed angiography-proven CAD. All by the age of 45.

Here is the baseline data:

Blood pressure, resting heart rate, fasting blood sugar, and low density lipoprotein (LDL – the “bad stuff”) and smoking incidence progressively increased with increasing BMI (BMI, a calculated ratio of weight and height) among the 17 year old inductees. High density lipoproteins (HDL – or the “good stuff”) declined as did the amount of weekly exercise with increasing BMI.

Here is the follow-up data:

Since this was a study of men beginning at age 17 and lasting an average of 17 years, it follows that the 327 cases of CAD and 1173 of diabetes were among relatively young men – aged 25-45 years old. When the investigators adjusted for age, family history of CAD, blood pressure, smoking status, LDL, HDL and triglycerides they found that an elevated BMI at age 17 was a significant independent risk factor for CAD. Indeed the risk increased by 12% for each increment of 1 unit of BMI. They also noted that CAD occurred even in those with BMIs that are generally considered within the acceptable range today.

BMI at age 17 also predicted for the later development of diabetes mellitus type 2 (DM) with risk increasing about 10% for each additional 1 unit of BMI. But with diabetes, it was the adult level (age 25 and beyond) that was associated with a greater increase in diabetes relative risk. Said differently, higher levels of BMI at age 17 correlate with higher risk of CAD and diabetes in early adulthood. Persistent elevations of BMI increase that risk. Elevation in early adulthood increases the risk of DM during early adulthood whether or not the person had a higher BMI at age 17.

My takeaway:

It is imperative to intervene now in the growing pandemic of childhood and adolescent obesity. Even modest increases BMI can predispose to later CAD and DM. Once developed, these are chronic illnesses that persist for life, are challenging to manage, are expensive to treat and have a high impact on both quality of life and longevity. Our children are our future; it is our obligation to protect them. And if that is not reason enough, then think of your wallet. The high costs of their care will have a very significant impact on each of us in our taxes and our insurance premiums.