Overweight children are at risk for heart disease as adults

Nandini Mani, MD

Contributing Editor

Being an overweight child is no picnic — it can be hard to keep up with your friends on the playground, you can’t wear some of the same styles of clothing other kids do, and the teasing can be merciless. New research published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that the damage goes beyond the social and emotional, too.

This study, entitled “Cardiometabolic Risks and Severity of Obesity in Children and Young Adults,” enrolled almost 9,000 children and adolescents ages 3–19 who were either overweight or obese (severely overweight). Doctors tested these young people for high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and other important risk factors for heart disease. On average, the most severely obese children and teens had higher blood pressures, worse cholesterol profiles, and higher blood sugar levels than those who were just overweight. This association was true even when taking into account race, ethnicity, gender, and age.

This was a cross-sectional study, meaning that it did not follow patients forward in time to see what happened to them. Rather, it examined each patient “in the moment” and identified factors that doctors believe affect the risk for future heart disease. So, based on the information in this study, we can’t tell which of these young people eventually went on to develop heart disease. However, we do know that, for adults, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar are critical to preventing heart disease. It is reasonable to infer that this would also hold true for children.

The majority of the study volunteers were ages 12–19. So it also seems reasonable to conclude that the more severely obese a teenager is, the greater the likelihood that he or she will go on to develop heart disease. The study also found that the boys and young men tended to have more concerning test results, raising the concern that childhood obesity might be particularly hazardous for them.

This study is incredibly important because it supports what pediatricians have feared for many years now, ever since we noticed rising rates of obesity among our younger patients: if we don’t find ways to help our kids achieve and maintain a healthy weight, we are going to see them become adults who suffer from heart disease at higher rates and at younger ages than ever before.

Helping children achieve a healthy weight

The great news is that we can do something about this! Weight loss interventions do work for younger patients, and are becoming more accessible.  Most importantly, we should realize that even a little bit of weight loss can go a long way to living a healthy life, and this is important at every age.

If your child is overweight, I hope that learning about this study encourages you to talk to your pediatrician about helping him or her (or yourself!) lose weight. Ideally, make a plan as a family. Make it a goal for Mom, Dad, and all the kids to get lots of exercise and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Before placing your child on a diet, or enrolling him or her in a weight-loss program, talk it over with your pediatrician. Don’t be embarrassed to do so! I can guarantee you that your doctor has seen many kids struggle with weight and has some expertise on the subject. Together you can create a plan of action that is right for your family and your child.


  1. children health

    Good, here gives some important suggestions for children’s health. now here very risk for heart disease in over weight children’s.so lets share this post, very useful post

  2. Shall

    now a days this is very common..Many children now a days spend most of there time indoors playing video games or doing something else instead of have an hour of outdoors exercise. Exercise is the key to having a healthy life…..

  3. Amanda

    Good nutrition and active life routines must be teached since we are childs. But never is late for a change of course, lots of people think once they grew up and they are overweight it is too late for achieve any change. Thats not true.

  4. Hannah Pierce

    I do not seem to agree with you on this. While it can be true for the majority, being overweight or obese is not as miserable as you make it out to be. We are just as happy as everyone else, they’re are stores that only have heavier people clothes and some of us just like being big! Stick that in your report Harvard!

    • Trinh

      Maybe it’s true for you . But you’re not the all. Why do you think that the children will feel ashamed, shy .the children will be limited., not take part in the activies . And the bottom line that the overweight won’t have a good health .

    • Kelly

      It’s not about being happy. It’s about being HEALTHY. You only have one body. Treat it right.

  5. Gillian

    This is so true. Many children now a days spend most of there time indoors playing video games or doing something else instead of have an hour of outdoors exercise. Exercise is the key to having a healthy life.

  6. Shareen

    Great practical tips and insight on why combating the obesity epidemic is so relevant to today’s children.

  7. necib farouk

    i like it

Commenting has been closed for this post.