Obesity Trends Indicate More Than Half of US Children at Risk

DECEMBER 12, 2017
Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor
Obesity will be a significant problem for more than half of US children if current trends continue, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study, conducted by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, used a simulation model to predict long-term trends in weight gain from childhood to age 35.  Using data from 41,567 children and adults, the researchers created 1000 virtual populations of 1 million children that were representative of the 2016 US population.

The findings showed that, if current trends continue, more than 57% of today’s children in the United States will be obese by the time they are 35 years old. The researchers also determined that excess weight in childhood is predictive of adult obesity, even among young children—indicating that prevention efforts and early interventions during childhood are imperative to reduce risk of obesity in adulthood.

Of the children predicted to have obesity as adults, half will develop it as children, according to the study’s findings. The researchers noted that 3 out of 4 children with obesity who were 2 years old will have obesity at age 35 and children with severe obesity at age 2 only have a 1 in 5 chance of not having obesity at age 35. Overall, the simulations indicated that relative risk of adult obesity increased with age and body mass index.

Just because a child is not obese does not mean they don’t face the risk of having obesity in adulthood, the researchers noted. According to the study, over half of children aged 2-19 years old in 2016 will be obese at age 35, and most of these youths are not currently obese.    

The researchers concluded that policies and programs to prevent excess weight gain and implement early interventions during childhood are necessary to reducing risk of obesity in the future. Cost-effective strategies such as promoting health foods, beverages, and physical activity is important within school and community settings. Pharmacists can help patients address weight management as well by offering wellness services in the pharmacy.


Ward ZJ, Long MW, Resch SC, et al. Simulation of growth trajectories of childhood obesity into adulthood. N Engl J Med. 2017;377:2145-2153. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1703860