It’s never too late to lose weight and improve your health: Study finds it’s current weight – not how long you’ve been fat – that matters

May 5, 2014 | SPH in the News

By Emma Innes

May 5, 2014

It is never too late for overweight people to lose weight to improve their health, according to a new study.

Researchers also found, perhaps not surprisingly, that people who are obese in their mid-twenties are more likely to suffer serious weight problems later in life.

However, the study showed it is a person’s current weight – rather than how long they have been obese for – that influences their risk of heart problems and diabetes.

The researchers say the findings prove that losing weight at any stage can help reduce health risks, regardless of how long a person has been overweight.

Associate Professor Jennifer Dowd, of the City University of New York’s School of Public Health, said: ‘The current findings suggest that the biological risks of longer-term obesity are primarily due to the risk of more severe obesity later in life among those obese early in life, rather than the impact of long-term obesity per se.

‘This is good news in some respects, as overweight and obese young adults who can prevent additional weight gain can expect their biological risk factors to be no worse than those who reach the same level of BMI later in life.’

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined data from the 1999 to 2010 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

It found that men who were obese at age 25 had a 23.1 per cent estimated probability of being morbidly obese – classified as class III obesity with a BMI greater than 40 – after age 35.

But men of a normal weight at age 25 only had a 1.1 per cent chance of severe obesity after age 35.

For women, the statistics were even more dramatic with the likelihood of class III obesity jumping to 46.9 per cent if obese at age 25, compared to just 4.8 per cent for those at a normal weight.

Although the study found that current weight was a better indicator of risk than the length of obesity, it is still significant that those obese at 25 years old were more likely to be morbidly obese in middle age.

By being more likely to reach severe levels of obesity, they are more susceptible to complications such as hypertension, inflammation, and diabetes.

Researchers found long-term obesity may play a role in other chronic conditions.

Assistant Professor Anna Zajacova, of the University of Wyoming, added: ‘Duration of obesity may still have important implications for mobility and musculoskeletal disease, research questions that should be investigated.

‘Prevention of weight gain at all ages should thus be a clinical and public health priority.’

Dr Dowd said: ‘This study adds to growing evidence that in terms of traditional cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic risk, obesity duration confers little additional risk beyond the current level of attained weight.

‘The bad news, in turn, is that maintaining a stable level of obesity from a young age is not the norm, and being obese at age 25 years places individuals at risk of a much more severe level of obesity later in life compared to those who are normal weight at age 25 years.’

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