Can Obese Kids Reverse the Risk of Adult Diabetes?

Parents of overweight children can eliminate a child's risk of diabetes.

Posted Jul 31, 2018

First, the discouraging news: The prevalence of childhood obesity has gone from five percent to more than 17 percent in recent years, while about 21 percent of American kids are overweight. The health risks associated with childhood obesity are well established. Childhood obesity increases the risks of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, as well as liver and renal disease. Not surprisingly, obese kids are twice as likely to die before age 55 compared to their non-obese peers. 

Now the good news: A recent study demonstrates that being overweight as a child can be reversed, eliminating the risk of adulthood diabetes. Danish researchers conducted a large, longitudinal study of boys who were overweight as children but were no longer overweight by age 18. They found that the diabetes risk for these formerly overweight boys was no greater than the risk for boys who had never been overweight. At least for diabetes, and perhaps for other conditions, reversing early childhood obesity can decrease health risks. Although boys were subjects in this study, the researchers suggest that the findings would be similar for girls.

Even though research suggests that the likelihood of becoming obese is established before age five it is not immutable. Overweight children don’t need to lose weight, and they definitely don’t need to diet. They are still growing so if they just maintain their weight and continue to grow they’ll slim down and won’t be overweight. As a result, their risk of diabetes will decrease. 

Unfortunately, many parents who could help their overweight child slim down aren’t aware that their child is too heavy. A meta-analysis (a method of combining data from many studies) of 69 articles representing 15,791 samples found that half of the parents of overweight or obese children underestimated their kid’s weight. 

How do you know if your child is overweight? If you’re not sure you can check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator for children and teens: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/bmi/calculator.html. If you find that your child is overweight, my book It’s NOT Just Baby Fat! describes ten straightforward steps for parents to help their child to a healthy weight without dieting. It’s much easier to establish a healthy weight in childhood and decrease later health risks than it is to try to reduce those risks by dieting in adulthood.

 Edward Abramson, Ph.D.
Source: Edward Abramson, Ph.D.

References

"Boys Who Lost Weight Eliminated Risk for Diabetes as Adult," Medscape, Jun 11, 2017.