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Does youthful obesity heighten lifelong mortality risk?

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Most of us recognize the lasting power of teenage psychological trauma on long-term well-being. We even have a term for memories that continue to cause emotional harm long after their original creation: baggage.

Now consider our bodily baggage - fat, that is. Could being obese in youth exact a physical toll in old age? A new study says it could.

Researchers at the Institute of Preventive Medicine and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark found a a young man heading into his twenties as obese will maintain a doubled risk of death up to 60 years later.

Here's the caveat: Seventy percent of the study subjects who were obese at 20 were still obese at their last follow-up examinations at age 46. So whether there's some irreversible risk instigated by youthful mortality, or whether the mere persistence of obesity means the risk is unlikely to subside is unclear.

Study author Esther Zimmermann, PhD, said in a release:

More than 70% of the obese young men were still obese at the follow-up examinations, whereas only 4% of the men in comparison group developed obesity during follow-up. Obesity seems to be a persistent condition and it appears that if it has not occurred in men by the age of 20, the chance of it developing later are quite low. The persistence of obesity may partly explain why obesity at 20 years of age has lifelong mortality effects, but it needs to be proven whether that is the full explanation or whether, by itself, being obese at an early age increases the risk of early death.

Researchers also found the risk of death to increase steadily with body mass index (10 percent per BMI unit over 25). Findings were based on a 26-year record of BMI changes and mortality rates in a group of 1,930 obese and 3,601 non-obese male military conscripts.

Photo by Tobyotter

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