Public Release: 

Children's body mass index predicts overweight or obesity in adulthood

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Body Mass Index, or BMI, provides a guideline based on weight and height to determine underweight and overweight. Recently, BMI-for-age growth charts used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been revised for young males and females aged 2-20 years, due to continued concern about the high prevalence of overweight and obesity among U.S. children. Previously a BMI of at least 26 for men and 28 for women was considered overweight, whereas now a BMI of ≥ 25 is considered overweight for both sexes. Publishing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Guo et al. used the new guidelines for children and adolescents to estimate the probability of subsequent overweight or obesity, based on BMI values from infancy to age 20. They found that the higher the childhood or adolescent BMI and the older the child, the greater the risk for that child to be overweight or obese as an adult.

Weight and stature from ages 3 to 20 years and again from ages 30 to 39 years were measured in 166 white male and 31 white female participants who had been enrolled in the study soon after birth. A BMI value for age 35 was taken as an average of the individual's weight between ages 30 and 39. A logistic regression analysis of the data showed that, overall, the probability of adult overweight increased with higher childhood and adolescent BMI values and with the age of the child. In the higher ranges of BMI-for-age, young males had a higher probability of being overweight as adults than young females. A 12-year-old girl with a BMI of ≥ 25 would be in the 95th percentile of BMI for her age and would have a ≥ 80% probability of adult overweight, rising to a ≥ 99% probability of obesity if she was still in the 95th percentile for BMI at age 20.2 The relationships among rising age, BMI values, and predicted probability of adult obesity emphasizes that adolescence is a "critical period" in establishing lifetime weight management.

The authors recommend that this predictive information be used in clinical and public health settings to evaluate and closely monitor children and adolescents in the ≥ 85th percentile of BMI for their age. This viewpoint is further explained in an accompanying editorial by George A. Bray, who points out that one-third of those who eventually become overweight or obese do so during the first 20 years of life of their lives, and that even modest reductions in weight at an early age can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in adolescents, as well as in adults.


Guo, Shumei Sun et al. Predicting overweight and obesity in adulthood from body mass index values in childhood and adolescence. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:653-8.

Bray, George A. Predicting obesity in adults from childhood and adolescent weight. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:497-8.

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