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You Have the Highest Risk of Becoming Overweight at This Age, Says New Study

Suspect it’s the middle-age spread? Think again.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Although middle age is notorious for potential weight gain—especially when it comes to belly fat for postmenopausal women—a new study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology suggests that the highest risk is for young adults, age 18 to 24, more so than any other age group.

Researchers looked at anonymized health records for more than two million adults in England, including weight and body mass index changes over the course of two decades. They also assessed the impact of other variables on weight, such as sex, geographic region, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

RELATED: The Best Exercises if You're Overweight or Obese, Say Experts

It turns out that age is the biggest risk factor in itself, regardless of other variables. People in that age group were four times more likely to become overweight or to develop obesity than those aged 65 to 74. Also surprising was that the lowest risk among age groups was later middle age, from 55 to 64 years old.

woman with red curly hair laughing with her two friends in a restaurant
Shutterstock / Zoran Zeremski

Why would young adults be so prone to weight creep? Researchers suggested it's because of significant life changes during that time.

'When you think about what happens for this age group, they're making big shifts that are likely to affect numerous aspects of their lives," says study co-author Claudia Langenberg, M.D., Ph.D., "They leave home for the first time, or they start work or go to university. The habits they form as this is happening might stick with them well into adulthood."

The good news, she says, is that the opportunity to modify weight gain is greatest in individuals who are young and don't yet have obesity. For example, those in the study who had the most difficulty with maintaining the weight they'd gained were people age 35 to 54, so if young adults do increase weight, that doesn't mean they're stuck with it forever.

By tailoring public health messages and making people more aware that they're at higher risk, it may help to reset some of those new habits, Langenberg notes.

"It's important to address this as early as possible because of the long-term health consequences of obesity and weight gain," she says. "That includes cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which may occur decades later, in middle-age and older age."

In addition to tweaking eating and exercise habits, young adults may want to focus on other behaviors that affect weight gain, such as stress, sleep, and socializing. Setting better habits when you're younger can help you well into the future, the researchers suggest.

For more, be sure to read 7 Diet Changes You Can Make Now to Sleep Better Tonight!

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more about Elizabeth