Don’t Wait Until Your 40s To Watch Your Weight

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Photograph: Toa Heftiba via Unsplash

Some of us look back on our early years as a halcyon time when you could eat what you want and do very little exercise, and still not put on much weight. If that’s you, you may wish to wipe that smug look off your face. A new study suggests that even modest weight gain in early adulthood drives up the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health analysed data from two long-running studies on 92,837 women and 25,303 men. In men, the average weight gain from 21 to 55 was 9.7kg (21.4lb), and the study found that gains of as little as 5kg (11lb) were enough to increase the risk of major chronic diseases.

Putting on 5kg of weight from early to middle adulthood was linked with a 30% higher risk of type 2 diabetes, a 14% greater risk of high blood pressure, and an 8% higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

That’s bad enough, but wait, there’s more. The 5kg gain was also linked to a 6% increased risk of obesity-related cancer and a 5% higher risk of premature death. For the final cherry on top, it was also linked with a 17% reduced chance of healthy ageing. It’s just bad news all round.

The study, published in JAMA, did have one significant limitation in that the subjects were asked about their weight in early adulthood at a later age, so might recall exactly what they weighed at various points incorrectly.

However, it seems clear that gradually stacking on more timber as you get older is a recipe for disaster. It’s not an uncommon pattern for young adults to leave school or university, where there is easy access to a variety of sports and a good chunk of free time to play them in, and immediately become less active when they start working and have less free time and more disposable income that ends up going towards boozy nights out.

This study suggests that pattern can have long-term consequences, so learn from your younger self and at least try to stay active in between the boozing. If you need a little more guidance than that, take note of these 16 expert weight loss tips.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.