Rapid weight gain early in life may continue to haunt you in your teens and adulthood, according to a new study. Researchers from Dokkyo Medical University have found that individuals who accelerate their weight gain before preadolescence are more likely to develop high blood pressure and cardiovascular complications later in life. The findings may inspire new pediatric health guidelines and prevention strategies against the obesity epidemic that currently affects millions of U.S. kids.

While most children will continue to grow and gain weight well into their teens, there comes a time in preadolescence when the weight gain process undergoes a series of fundamental changes. This turning point, called adiposity rebound, occurs when a child’s weight and height cease to rise at a parallel rate. As a result, the child’s body mass index (BMI) begins to increase.

Most children undergo adiposity rebound at around four to six years of age. Previous studies have tied earlier adiposity rebound to an elevated risk of obesity in adolescence and adulthood. The new paper, which is published in the journal Pediatrics, sought to determine whether early adiposity rebound also ups the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and other problems typically associated with an unhealthy BMI.

Early Adiposity Rebound

To investigate, the Japanese research team surveyed 271 children born between 1995 and 1997. All subjects had had their weight and height tracked throughout their childhood with infant health checks and physical exams at school. From this data, the researchers were able to determine each child’s age at adiposity rebound.

The team found that children who underwent adiposity rebound earlier than age four had a higher BMI at age 12 compared to children who reached the turning point at age seven. In addition, these children also had higher triglycerides and blood pressure — two factors known to increase the risk cardiovascular disease. This relationship was more pronounced in male children.

“This longitudinal population-based study indicates that children who exhibit [adiposity rebound] at a younger age are predisposed to future development of metabolic syndrome,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion. “Therefore, monitoring of [adiposity rebound] may be an effective method for the early identification of children at risk for metabolic syndrome.”

Towards a Lower Incidence of Childhood Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incidence of childhood obesity in the U.S. more than doubled between 1980 and 2010. Today, it is estimated that 18 percent of children and adolescents ages six to 19 suffer from obesity. Aside from heart attack and stroke, long-term adverse health outcomes include sleep apnea, psychological problems, as well as joint and bone complications.

Stephen Daniels, a physician at the University Of Colorado School Of Medicine who was not involved in the current study, told reporters that the results underscore the importance of monitoring weight gain throughout early childhood. "Physicians should be tracking body mass index and should be checking for kids who are headed in the direction of being more obese," he said, speaking to Reuters. "The message is probably still more general, in terms of families working with pediatricians and family physicians to make sure that families have a healthy diet (and) that they have healthy opportunities for activity.”

Source: Satomi Koyama, Go Ichikawa, Megumi Kojima, Naoto Shimura, Toshimi Sairenchi, and Osamu Arisaka. “Adiposity Rebound and the Development of Metabolic Syndrome.” Pediatrics peds.2013-0966; published ahead of print December 23, 2013, doi:10.1542/peds.2013-0966.