Higher body mass index in adolescence, even in the normal range, is tied to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease in adulthood, according to a new study.
Researchers used data on 2,454,693 Israeli men and women who underwent medical evaluations for military service at age 17 from 1967 through 2010. Over the 40 years of follow-up, there were 2,918 deaths from cardiovascular causes, about half of them from coronary heart disease. The study is in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Compared to 17-year-olds with B.M.I. in the 5th to 24th percentile (corresponding to a median B.M.I. of about 18.9), those in the 25th to 49th percentile (B.M.I. 20.6) had a small increased risk for coronary heart disease in adulthood. But those in the 50th to 74th percentile (B.M.I. 22.2) had a 49 percent increased risk, and those in the 75th to 84th percentile (B.M.I. 24.3) — still normal by current guidelines — had more than double the risk. The study controlled for sex, education, socioeconomic status and other factors.
The lowest risk for death was among those with B.M.I.’s between 18.3 and 19.8, the low end of normal.
“A single study shouldn’t by itself change what is considered to be the normal range,” said the lead author, Dr. Gilad Twig, an internist at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel. “But being overweight in adolescence is bad — we knew that before, and this study shows it’s really bad.”