If Current Trends in Obesity Keep Up, the U.S. Is Going to Be Overflowing With Fat People in 35 Years

Overweight man on see saw
  Martin Barraud / Getty Images

There’s no doubt about it: America (and much of the world) is becoming fatter and fatter as sedentary lives take over and processed foods continue their stranglehold on the population. In the U.S. alone, almost 37% of adults are obese, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey from 2011–2014.

Those numbers aren’t getting any better—and especially not for kids.

If American trends in youth obesity continue at their current rate, more than 57% of obese pre-teens will classify as obese when they turn 35, according to new Harvard research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Furthermore, being overweight when you’re young is a good indicator of future fatness. Even kids now at a healthy weight have about a 50% chance of becoming obese when they get older, the researchers said.

For the study, scientists extrapolated future trends by gathering the height and weight data of more than 40,000 kids and grown-ups from five studies. Using that data, the researchers projected 1,000 digital populations of 1 million children (up to 19 years old) based on the 2016 population. The heights and weights of those virtual kids was then projected to age 35.

More key findings:

  • Three out of four 2-year-olds with obesity will still be fat at 35.
  • Two-year-olds with severe obesity will have a mere 20% chance of breaking the obesity cycle.
  • If those kids are still obese at 5 years old, that changes to only a 10% chance.

“Adult obesity is linked with increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer,” said lead study author Zachary Ward, Ph.D. candidate and a programmer/analyst at Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health Decision Science. “Our findings highlight the importance of prevention efforts for all children as they grow up, and of providing early interventions for children with obesity to minimize their risk of serious illness in the future.”

And if you’re considering bringing your pudgy nephew to the gym with you, remember that kids can start lifting far younger than most parents realize.