Teen Weight Gain May Mean More Adult Belly Fat

A new study suggests that young adults who gained too much weight as teenagers tend to have greater amounts of deep abdominal fat — a risk factor for heart disease later in life.

The findings, reported in the journal Diabetes, add to evidence that overweight and obese teens may face elevated heart risks by middle age.

Swedish researchers found that among 612 men ages 18 to 20, those whose body mass index (BMI) increased the most during adolescence tended to have the greatest amounts of visceral fat — deep "hidden" fat that surrounds the abdominal organs and is particularly linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

These same men also typically had more superficial abdominal fat — fat layers just below the skin that, while linked to health risks, are a weaker risk factor than visceral fat.

Meanwhile, greater BMI changes in late childhood were linked to adulthood levels of superficial belly fat only.

The findings suggest that preventing excessive weight gain in adolescence, in particular, may help control visceral fat accumulation later on, according to Dr. Jenny M. Kindblom and her colleagues at Gothenburg University.

So even if childhood BMI is high, Kindblom told Reuters Health, there may be benefits to preventing further increases during adolescence.

Because visceral fat is tied to heart disease and its risk factors, the findings also suggest that large BMI changes in the teen years could affect a person's cardiovascular health later on, Kindblom said.

This study, she added, cannot show whether this is the case, but it is an "interesting" question for future research.