Intended for healthcare professionals


Implications of childhood obesity for adult health: findings from thousand families cohort study

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 01 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1280
  1. Charlotte M Wright (C.M.Wright{at}, senior lecturer in community child healtha,
  2. Louise Parker, reader in epidemiologyb,
  3. Douglas Lamont, senior research associatec,
  4. Alan W Craft, James Spence professor of child healthb
  1. a Donald Court House, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead NE8 1EB
  2. b Sir James Spence Institute of Child Health, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle NE1 4LP
  3. c 24 Seymour Lane, Alford, Lincolnshire, LN13 9AP
  1. Correspondence to: C M Wright
  • Accepted 29 August 2001


Objective: To determine whether being overweight in childhood increases adult obesity and risk of disease.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: City of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Participants: 932 members of thousand families 1947 birth cohort, of whom 412 attended for clinical examination age 50.

Main outcome measures: Blood pressure; carotid artery intima-media thickness; fibrinogen concentration; total, low density lipoprotein, and high density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations; triglyceride concentration; fasting insulin and 2 hour glucose concentrations; body mass index; and percentage body fat.

Results: Body mass index at age 9 years was significantly correlated with body mass index age 50 (r=0.24, P<0.001) but not with percentage body fat age 50 (r=0.10, P=0.07). After adult body mass index had been adjusted for, body mass index at age 9 showed a significant inverse association with measures of lipid and glucose metabolism in both sexes and with blood pressure in women. However, after adjustment for adult percentage fat instead of body mass index, only the inverse associations with triglycerides (regression coefficient= −0.21, P<0.01) and total cholesterol (−0.17, P<0.05) in women remained significant.

Conclusions: Little tracking from childhood overweight to adulthood obesity was found when using a measure of fatness that was independent of build. Only children who were obese at 13 showed an increased risk of obesity as adults. No excess adult health risk from childhood or teenage overweight was found. Being thin in childhood offered no protection against adult fatness, and the thinnest children tended to have the highest adult risk at every level of adult obesity.

What is already known on this topic

What is already known on this topic Many studies have found that body mass index in childhood is significantly correlated with body mass index in adulthood

Obese children have been found to have higher all cause mortality as adults

What this study adds

What this study adds No excess health risk from childhood overweight was found

Childhood body mass index was linked to adulthood body mass index but not percentage body fat

Only children who were obese at 13 showed a significant increased risk of obesity as adults

People who were thinnest as children and fattest as adults tended to have the highest adult risk


  • Funding Wellcome Trust, James Knott Trust, Northern Regional Health Authority.

  • Competing interests CMW has a longstanding interest in undernutrition in childhood.

  • Accepted 29 August 2001
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