It is a well-known fact that childhood obesity can have long-term consequences. It is unclear, however, whether this is because overweight teenagers tend to become overweight adults, or because being obese in one’s youth causes irreversible damage to the body. A new study sheds new light on the question: it actually appears that people who were overweight in their youth can reduce their risk of dying from heart disease if they lose weight as adults.
A team of researchers studied the medical records of men who entered Harvard University between 1916 and 1950. Over 19,000 alumni were subsequently followed for a period of to 82 years, with their habits, body mass index and heart disease risk assessed regularly.
As expected, the researchers observed that the most overweight students were also the most likely to become obese adults. Also, the men who were obese as freshmen had nearly twice the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease as the men who had been of normal weight during their studies.
However, when the researchers took into account the men’s weight in their forties, the results changed. The men who started university obese but later reached a normal weight no longer had a higher risk of dying of heart disease compared with peers who had always had a healthy weight. These new data therefore suggest that the increased risk of weight-related cardiovascular disease deaths could be reversible.
According to the researchers, even though the study only included men, similar results can be expected in women. The message is therefore clear: it’s never too late to reap the benefits of a healthy weight!