Editor: This is a really important paper.
Forecasting the future effects of obesity has been a complicated business. One reason is that just measuring a current trend and then projecting it into the future (called the ‘two-dimensional model”) does not incorporate the changes occurring now to younger persons which will not become manifest until much further into the future. Two examples are exposure by children to second-hand tobacco smoke and childhood or adolescent obesity. Underforecasting the effects of an epidemic like obesity can lead policy makers to pay insufficient attention or devote inadequate resources or direct those resources in unproductive ways. Unfortunately, it seems all of those poor outcomes are occurring.
So another method, the “three-dimensional” model has been developed to take future changes into effects. It is not a pretty picture. The authors of a new paper in Health Affairs, Eric N Reiter, S. Jay Olshansky and Yang Yang, write, “We have shown that a reversal in US life expectancy rates is a distinct possibility in the long term, and a high probability in the short term for subgroups of the population most affected by obesity.” They note that childhood and adolescent obesity will predict the metabolic syndrome in many, as well as type 2 diabetes. After reviewing the evidence on the inter-generational inheritance process of transmission of obesity, they warn, “For example, fetal overnutrition has been shown to permanently increase appetite and shift preferences toward junk food among offspring, increasing the risk of obesity. Both human and animal studies indicate that maternal and paternal health behaviors – such as diet and smoking – affect the probability of obesity and related metabolic programming. In other words, a child’s metabolism and risk for certain diseases later in life can be “programmed” by conditions that existed during gestation. ..The implications of this body of science are profound: the high prevalence of obesity observed among younger people today is likely to be transmitted to future generations – regardless of the health behaviors of children yet to be born.” (Emphasis added.) So, this paper indicates we are underestimating the impact of childhood and adolescent obesity. See New Forecasting Methodology Indicates More Disease And Earlier Mortality Ahead For Today’s Younger Americans