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Childhood obesity can 'halve life expectancy'

Children who are severely obese are 27% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes by the age of 25 and have a life expectancy of 39 years if they do not lose weight
'It is clear that child obesity should be considered a life-threatening disease,' says study author Dr Urs Wiedemann

Severely obese children could halve their life expectancy if they do not lose weight in adulthood, according to research by a life sciences consultancy in Munich.

The study found that four-year-old children who were overweight had a life expectancy of 39, which is half that of a boy the same age with a healthy weight in the UK.

Presenting the study at the European Congress on Obesity in Venice, lead author Dr Urs Wiedemann said: ‘It is clear that childhood obesity should be considered a life-threatening disease. It is vital that treatment isn’t put off until the development of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or other warning signs but starts early. Early diagnosis should and can improve quality and length of life.’

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The study looked at data on obesity and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues in 10 million people across the world, including about 2.7 million people aged between two and 29.

Researchers used a body mass index (BMI) z score which measures how much a youngster’s weight deviates from the normal range for their age and gender. The more a child weighs, the higher the BMI z score.

The researchers found that children with a BMI z score of 3.5 had a life expectancy of 39 years, whereas children with BMI z scores of 2.0 had an estimated life expectancy of 65 without weight loss.

They also found that severely obese four-year-olds were 27% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes by the age of 25 and had a 45% chance of developing the condition by age 35.

However, Dr Wiedemann urged caution with regards to the findings and said more research was needed for conclusive results.

He said: ‘While it’s widely accepted that childhood obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and that it can reduce life expectancy, evidence on the size of the impact is patchy.

‘A better understanding of the precise magnitude of the long-term consequences and the factors that drive them could help inform prevention policies and approaches to treatment, as well as improve health and lengthen life.’