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The Shape of Good Health


It’s no secret that overweight and obesity contribute to poor health.

Being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk of chronic conditions like type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. People who are overweight and obese in childhood have a greater risk of
being so in adulthood, so it’s important to understand how weight fluctuates over the life course and how weight and body shape at different life stages influence the risk of disease. The relationship between childhood and adulthood body weight and the risk of disease and death is not well understood, perhaps largely because the two are related and it may be difficult to separate body weight at one life stage as the predominant influencing factor. Researchers in the US used a trajectory-based approach to investigate
the relationship between a person’s body shape in early and middle life and their risk of death.

Researchers provided a set of trajectories that described body shapes and also indicated whether people’s body shape had remained stable or increased over time. The shapes ranged from lean-stable through to heavy-stable increase. The study participants were asked to identify the body shape that best represented
them at ages 5, 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. Participants’ Body Mass Index (BMI) was also recorded for each age bracket to corroborate the body shapes that they’d identified. The risk of death from all causes
as well as specific causes were recorded.

Men and women in the lean and stable body shape group were found to have a lower risk of death compared to people in the other body shape groups. For women, being in the heavy-stable increase group
related to the highest risk of dying from stroke, cancer and other causes. In men, the lean-marked increase and heavy stable increase body types had the highest risk of death from heart-related causes and
other causes.This research adds to the large body of evidence that advocates for maintaining a healthy weight throughout the life course. People who were lean in childhood and steadily gained weight over the life course were also at increased risk of death, so it’s important to be consistent and persistent with weight management at all life stages. Start forming good habits early and encourage your children to do the same, and work hard to maintain them into adulthood. Establishing a healthy relationship with
food and ensuring consistent engagement with exercise starting in childhood is a good start.

Song, M et al. Trajectory of body shape
in early and middle life and all cause and cause
specific mortality: results from two prospective US
cohort studies. BMJ 2016; 353: i2195

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