A health study that has consistently tracked 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972 and 1973 has found childhood obesity is linked with heart disease in middle age.
The Dunedin Study has followed all aspects of the health and development of the chosen group, and recent findings have appeared in the International Journal of Obesity.
One of the authors, Professor Michael Williams, says being overweight or obese as an infant is a known risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death worldwide.
Body mass index information was collected regularly from ages three to 38 among the Dunedin Study members.
Preventing children becoming overweight at such an early age has the goal of improving long term health, Prof Williams said.
"Our research indicates that children who were overweight or obese at age three, or were in overweight or obese trajectory groups from that age to 38, are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease," he said.
Poor physical fitness and high cholesterol were also good indicators of heart disease, he said.
The research in the Dunedin Study was supported by the New Zealand Health Research Council, the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the US National Institute on Aging, and the UK Medical Research Council.
According to a recent New Zealand health survey, one in nine children (11 percent) are obese and a further 21 percent are overweight, figures which Prof Williams said were a "time bomb" in terms of a future burden on New Zealand's health system.