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As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, two studies released last week underscore just how critical it is to address overweight and obesity as soon as possible for children and teens.

The first study, from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), evaluated 227 000 Norwegian adolescents (both boys and girls) in the age group 14-19 years, using height and weight measurements from 1963-75, and then over a 35-year follow-up period. The purpose was to ascertain whether being overweight as a teenager results in a heightened risk of health issues in adulthood.

What the study found was quite shocking: compared to those at a normal BMI (body mass index) between the ages of 14-19, those who were overweight as adolescents have a significantly increased mortality rate from a range of chronic diseases as adults; endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer and respiratory diseases.

There were also many cases of sudden death in the overweight study group.

“We found that increasing degrees of obesity among adolescents lead to an unfavorable development in the mortality rate from a range of significant causes of deaths,” concludes Professor Tone Bjørge at the Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Bergen and researcher with the Medical Birth Registry at the NIPH.

In a separate study by the research company Thomson Reuters, it was determined that health care for an overweight child costs significantly more than health care for a child at a healthy weight, despite the fact that most obese children are not yet presenting any medical co-morbidities.

The Thomson report also found that overweight children visit emergency departments more frequently and are two to three times more likely to be hospitalized.

Thomson estimates that the overall cost of care for overweight youths is $14 billion annually and the study concluded that “demand for ER visits, inpatient hospitalizations and outpatient visits is expected to rise dramatically.”

The Thomson study was reported in the Washington Post’s remarkable five-part series on the childhood obesity epidemic. One of the most interesting features in the Post’s coverage was an interactive feature demonstrating the impact of obesity on a child’s various body systems and functions.

To view this feature, click here.