So, what can parents do today to help their kids live longer, healthier lives?
"There is not one specific thing we can recommend," Saydah said. "There is a need for more effective strategies to try and prevent obesity and smoking, and improve the overall health of the younger population."
This starts with encouraging healthier eating, a more active lifestyle and smoking cessation, she added.
Dr. Nazrat Mirza, an attending pediatrician in the Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., said the new study confirms other findings and does so using nationally representative data.
"It's another wake-up call that obesity is associated with a higher risk of early death," she said. And this risk starts to build early in life.
"The stakes are very high," she added. "If these current trends continue, we won't become extinct, but it will affect our workforce and our defense."
Prevention is the key, Mirza said, adding, "Parents must set the stage very early in life by teaching and modeling healthy behaviors that will track into adolescence and early adulthood."
One expert noted that, as a doctor, she planned to do more to get the message across to adolescents.
"The poignancy of the study is the fact that these risks affect us at an earlier age," said Dr. Lisa Ipp, an assistant professor in pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, who added she may turn the volume up on her usual healthy living messages as a result of these findings.
"Adolescents are a challenging group and we try our best to do risk reduction counseling and get them to get out of harm's way," she said. "But based on this data, we will certainly push a little bit harder."
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