Overweight and obesity from childhood to adulthood: a follow-up of participants in the 1985 Australian Schools Health and Fitness Survey

Alison J Venn, Russell J Thomson, Michael D Schmidt, Verity J Cleland, Beverley A Curry, Hanni C Gennat and Terence Dwyer
Med J Aust 2007; 186 (9): 458-460.


Objective: To examine overweight and obesity in Australian children followed through to adulthood.

Design and participants: A cohort study of 8498 children aged 7–15 years who participated in the 1985 Australian Schools Health and Fitness Survey; of these, 2208 men and 2363 women completed a follow-up questionnaire at age 24–34 years in 2001–2005.

Main outcome measures: Height and weight were measured in 1985, and self-reported at follow-up. The accuracy of self-reported data was checked in 1185 participants. Overweight and obesity in childhood were defined according to international standard definitions for body mass index (BMI), and, in adulthood, as a BMI of 25–29.9 and 30 kg/m2, respectively, after correcting for self-report error.

Results: In those with baseline and follow-up data, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in childhood was 8.3% and 1.5% in boys and 9.7% and 1.4% in girls, respectively. At follow-up, the prevalence was 40.1% and 13.0% in men and 19.7% and 11.7% in women. The relative risk (RR) of becoming an obese adult was significantly greater for those who had been obese as children compared with those who had been a healthy weight (RR = 4.7; 95% CI, 3.0–7.2 for boys and RR = 9.2; 95% CI, 6.9–12.3 for girls). The proportion of adult obesity attributable to childhood obesity was 6.4% in males and 12.6% in females.

Conclusion: Obesity in childhood was strongly predictive of obesity in early adulthood, but most obese young adults were a healthy weight as children.

  • Alison J Venn1
  • Russell J Thomson1
  • Michael D Schmidt1
  • Verity J Cleland1
  • Beverley A Curry1
  • Hanni C Gennat1
  • Terence Dwyer2

  • 1 Menzies Research Institute, Hobart, TAS.
  • 2 Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, VIC.



This study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the National Heart Foundation, the Tasmanian Community Fund and Veolia Environmental Services. We gratefully acknowledge the study sponsors (Sanitarium, ASICS and Target), and the contributions of the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study’s project manager, Ms Marita Dalton, all other project staff and volunteers, and the study participants. Dr Leigh Blizzard provided valuable statistical advice.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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