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Teenage obesity as dangerous as smoking

Wednesday February 25th, 2009

Obese teenagers suffer as much damage to their health as someone who smokes ten cigarettes a day, researchers claimed today.

British experts described the research, reported in the British Medical Journal, as "shocking".

Betty McBride, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "This is an alarming illustration to young people who may have been blasé about the implications of obesity to their future health.

"The Government needs to bring the same level of sustained focus to tackling the obesity crisis it has previously brought to smoking."

She added: "The number of young people who are overweight and obese is growing. Without tackling this now we risk the next generation growing up with more health problems than their parents."

Researchers led by Dr Martin Neovius of the Karolinska University Hospital, Sweden, recruited 45,920 young men, aged 18, undertaking mandatory military service in Sweden between 1969 and 1970. They followed them for approximately 38 years, noting the causes of any deaths.

The 2,897 men who died in that time were more likely to have been overweight at the age of 18 - the risk was 33 per cent higher among overweight men <!(body mass index of 25 or over)>, and more than twice as high in obese men <!(body mass index of 30 or over)>, compared with normal weight men.

On the website of the British Medical Journal, the authors report that the risk was similar to that from smoking.

They conclude: "Regardless of smoking status, overweight and obesity in late adolescence increases the risk of adult mortality. Obesity and overweight were as hazardous as heavy and light smoking, respectively, but there was no interaction between body mass index and smoking status."

Since the start of this study, the number of overweight adolescent men in Sweden has tripled and those who are obese have increased five-fold, but the number of smokers has halved. However, in some countries both bodyweight and smoking have increased among adolescents.

Therefore: "Overweight, obesity and smoking among adolescents remain important targets for intensified public health initiatives."

Neovius, M., Sundstrom, J. and Rasmussen, F. Combined effects of overweight and smoking in late adolescence on subsequent mortality: nationwide cohort study. The British Medical Journal, 2009;338:b496.

Tags: Child Health | Europe | Nutrition & Healthy Eating | UK News

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