By David Meyer
December 1, 2017

The U.S.’s obesity problem is set to get much worse, according to new Harvard research that simulates future obesity rates for those Americans who are currently children.

While a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that almost 40% of American adults are currently obese, the new research predicts that over 57% of today’s children will be obese by the time they reach the age of 35.

Obesity is classified as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is calculated by dividing the subject’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.

BMI is the most widely used system for establishing whether someone is underweight, of normal weight, overweight or obese. However, it’s rather simplistic and is controversial as a health indicator, as it doesn’t take into account the differences between fat and muscle (which is heavier than fat), nor does it factor in ethnic background.

The new research took data from five earlier studies about actual American children and adults’ height and weight, and simulated growth trajectories in order to project where today’s kids were likely to end up by the age of 35.

The results showed that 57.3% of today’s kids, up to the age of 19, will be obese by the age of 35. Of those, around half will become (or already be) obese during childhood, and half will become obese later on.

For those children who are already severely obese—that is, with a BMI of 35 or more—the chances that they will cease to be obese by their 35th birthday drop with age. At the age of two, the likelihood of that happening is 21%; by 19, the likelihood drops to 6.1%.

The age of 35 was picked for the study because that’s when obesity-related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease often start to kick in.

“On the basis of our simulation models, childhood obesity and overweight will continue to be a major health problem in the United States,” the researchers wrote. “Early development of obesity predicted obesity in adulthood, especially for children who were severely obese.”

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