It's not too late to lose a bit of weight. That's what researchers in the U.K. concluded in a new study that showed being overweight throughout adulthood isn't necessarily a harbinger of diabetes and heart disease later in life, as long as you turn things around by the midcentury mark.
The study of nearly 5,000 participants compared the current health data of middle-aged men to what was recorded on their military service records or gleaned from their own recall from age 21. The men who were overweight at age 21 had a 6 percent higher chance of eventually developing Type-2 diabetes, but the risk of diabetes for men who still had higher body mass indexes (BMI) around age 50 was 21 percent higher by comparison. Men who were normal weights when they were young but who gained weight by middle age, however, increased their diabetes risk by three times.
In other words, the effects of a high BMI early on in terms of your diabetes risk is potentially reversible. But before you throw all your New Year's diet plans into the bin, keep in mind that there are negative health effects in carrying around an unhealthy weight (not to mention that losing weight gets more difficult in middle age).
"The increased risk of diabetes associated with having a higher BMI in early life was expressed per unit increase in BMI in early life," says lead author Charles Owen, a professor of epidemiology at St. George's of London "[So] the lower the BMI the better."
Losing weight in middle age, compared to having higher levels of BMI at 21 years, marginally lowers the risk of diabetes and possibly of stroke, but had little effect on the risk of a heart attack, Owen adds.
A more important takeaway than fatness doesn't matter that much when you're young is that it's pretty vital that we not be overweight by age 50, as it considerably increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
"There's growing concern that long-term exposure to higher levels of body fat may increase risks of cardiovascular disease and Type-2 diabetes in later life," Owen says. "This is becoming increasingly relevant as levels of body fatness and duration of exposure to higher levels [of fatness] are increasing."
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