Obesity in men during early 20s can decrease chances of reaching middle age

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Published April 30, 2013

| FoxNews.com

The amount a man weighs in his early 20s can have a huge impact on his health by the time he reaches middle age – and could even curb his chances of living that long.

A new study published online in the journal BMJ Open revealed that men who are obese during their early 20s are much more likely to develop serious health issues by the time they are in their 50s – including conditions like diabetes, blood clots and heart attacks.  Not only that, the researchers found that early adulthood obesity in men may even increase the possibility of premature death, preventing them from even reaching middle age.

While it’s well established that adult obesity increases the risk for developing these conditions, researchers had not yet fully understood how obesity during early adulthood impacts an individual’s middle-age health.

“Previous reports indicate that the effect obesity has on cardiovascular death varies between age groups with greater impact in younger age groups,” first author Dr. Morton Schmidt, in the department of clinical epidemiology at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, told FoxNews.com. “Therefore, we found it necessary to study the adverse outcomes associated with obesity within the age group of young adults specifically.”

Schmidt and co-author Henrik Toft Sorenson, also in the department of clinical epidemiology at Aarhus, tracked the health of 6,500 Danish men, beginning when they were 22 years old and following them for 33 years up until the age of 55.  All had been born in 1955 and had registered with the Military Board for a fitness test in order to gauge their ability to perform military service.

Of the subjects involved in the study, approximately 83 percent were within a normal weight range, 5 percent were considered underweight and 1.5 percent were considered obese.  Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, while normal weight is defined as having a BMI between 18.5 and 25.

According to the researchers, almost half of those considered obese at the age of 22 were diagnosed with life threatening disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, or blood clots in legs or lungs by the time they reached 55 – or they didn’t make it to 55 at all.

The obese participants were eight times more likely to get diabetes, four times more likely to have a fatal blood clot – also known as venous thromboembolism – and more than twice as likely to have high blood pressure, have sustained a heart attack or to have died.

“In all, obese young men were three times as likely to get any of these serious conditions as their normal weight peers by middle age, conferring an absolute risk of almost 50 percent compared with only 20 percent among their normal weight peers,” Schmidt said.

While Schmidt and his colleagues only tested men, they said it’s just as likely the correlation translates to women as well.

“Previous reports have shown that young adulthood obesity also increases the risk for premature death among women,” Schmidt said, “so we have no reason not to suspect that these findings also hold true for women.”

Given these results, the researchers said it is important to put measures into place that address managing an individual’s weight as early as possible, since obesity at such a young age can have a tremendous impact later in life.

“It is important that people realize that obesity in a young age is a serious risk to long-term health,” Schmidt said. “Efforts should therefore be made to prevent obesity in the first place…This forecast reinforces the importance of understanding the effects of adiposity in young adults (and) to plan future strategies for weight management and primary prevention.”

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