Uncertainty around the influence of childhood obesity on metabolic syndrome in adulthood.

A fat stomach

Clinical question

Although observational studies have shown that childhood obesity is positively associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, full diabetes and other diseases, it could be that this is because obese adults who have these diseases are more likely to have been obese as children.

So, is childhood obesity associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome in adulthood, independently from its association with obesity in adulthood?


Systematic review of observational studies of the association between childhood body mass index (BMI) and adult levels of cholesterol, triglyceride and insulin and the risk of metabolic syndrome.  11 studies were found.

Bottom line

After adjustment for adult BMI, no independent association was found between childhood obesity and adult levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, insulin and metabolic syndrome.  Observed associations may therefore be due to the fact that people with high BMI in childhood are more likely to have high BMI in adulthood.

Appraisal guide

Users of this research should consider:

  • Whether the reviewers did enough to find all of the relevant studies
  • Whether  the individual studies sufficiently similar to warrant combining into an overall measure
  • Whether it is appropriate to assume that it is possible to separate childhood obesity from adult obesity as a potential risk factor
  • The amount of uncertainty around the observed associations.
  • The extent to which the measured variables are clinically important.


Lloyd LJ, Langley-Evans SC, McMullen S.  Childhood obesity and risk of the adult metabolic syndrome: a systematic review. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Nov 1. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.186.

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I am an information scientist with an interest in making knowledge from systematic research more accessible to people who need it. This means you. I've been attempting this in the area of Evidence-Based Health Care since 1995. So far the results have been mixed. For some reason we expected busy clinicians to search databases and appraise papers instead of seeing patients. We also expected publishers to make the research freely available to the people who paid for it.. Ha! Hence The National Elf service.

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