These 3 factors most likely lead to adolescent obesity, study finds

America's obesity problem is on the rise. Again. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese, the highest rates ever recorded in the country. Obesity can lead to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The childhood obesity rate, for ages 6-19, has increased to a concerning 20%. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.

Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the United States in the past 40 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. That means nearly 1-in-5 children, ages 6 to 19, is obese.

Now, a study published this week suggests three factors most likely to contribute to adolescent obesity.

According to the study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, a child's and mother's body mass index and a mother's education level are key in determining whether or not a healthy child will be overweight or obese by the time they reach adolescence.

According to the study:

  • For every unit higher a child's BMI is when he or she is 6-7 years old, the odds of that child being overweight or obese by ages 14-15 increased three-fold and cut the odds of resolution in half.
  • For every unit a mother's BMI increases when her child is 6-7, the odds of the child having a weight problem by the time they are 14-15 years old increased by 5%. 
  • Finally, the study found if a child's mother has a college degree, the child has lower odds of being overweight or obese when 2-5 years old and higher odds of having a weight problem resolved by the time they reach adolescence.

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The study notes that kids ages 2-5 have a low chance of resolving a weight problem by adolescence if all three factors are present.

Researchers note these results could allow health care providers to compile a simple “risk score” and, therefore, focus on prevention.

"Because clinicians haven't been able to tell which children will grow up to become teens with excess weight, it's been hard to target interventions for those most at risk," said Kate Lycett, one of the study’s authors.

The study looked at two cohorts of children, each group of about 3,500 participants. Their weight and 25 “potential obesity-relevant clinical indicators” were measured every two years.

The 25 potential indicators included breastfeeding and amount of time spent outside. The study concluded the “lifestyle factors were not predictive of weight outcomes.”

Markus Juonala, the study’s lead author, said by removing focus on unlikely contributors, it should provide more opportunities for providers to focus on solutions.

"Combining data on these three easily obtainable risk factors may help clinicians make appropriate decisions targeting care to those most at risk of adolescent obesity," Juonala said.