MINNEAPOLIS — Weight gain during a child’s teenage years could be strong indicators of stroke risk in adulthood, a study by an international team of scientists found. Compared with children who don’t become overweight in their teenage years, adolescents who pack on extra pounds have a much higher risk of stroke later in life.
“The stroke rate has been increasing among young adults even while it has been decreasing for older people,” says study author Dr. Jenny M. Kindblom in a release by the American Academy of Neurology. “While we don’t know the reasons for this increase, it has occurred at the same time as the obesity epidemic.”
The study analyzed a cohort of nearly 38,000 Swedish men, recording their body mass index (BMI) measurements at ages eight and 20. After they turned 20, their medical records were tracked for an average of 38 years. The authors found 918 of the men had strokes during that time.
Men with high BMI increases between ages eight and 20 were much more likely to have strokes than men whose BMI increased at an average rate, the data showed. Each two-point increase in BMI caused a 20% increase in stroke risk. Perhaps most disturbingly, men who were at a normal weight at age eight, but overweight at age 20 were 80% more likely to have a stroke than men who stayed at a normal weight. Those who were overweight at both ages also had a 70% greater risk.
“Today’s environment that is so conducive to obesity may even further heighten the relationship we saw between increase in BMI and risk of stroke,” says Kindblom.
The results also showed that participants who had high BMI increases during the study period were more likely to have high blood pressure in adulthood. High blood pressure, of course, is a prominent factor in stroke risk.
Kindblom adds that the findings were based on observation and that the study only shows that high BMI increases are linked to stroke risk, but don’t necessarily cause them.
The full study was published June 28, 2017 in the online journal Neurology.