The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal, examined the impact of lifelong patterns of weight change on cardiovascular risk factors in a group of British men and women followed since birth in March 1946.
The results showed that the longer the exposure to excess body fat (adiposity) in adulthood the greater the cardiovascular-related problems in later life, including increased thickness of the carotid artery walls, raised systolic blood pressure, and increased risk of diabetes.
The findings also indicate that adults who drop a BMI category - from obese to overweight, or from overweight to normal - at any time during adult life, even if they regain weight, can reduce these cardiovascular manifestations.
The study used data from 1,273 men and women from the UK Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD).
Participants were classified as normal weight, overweight, or obese in childhood and at 36, 43, 53, and 60-64 years of age.
Cardiovascular phenotyping between the ages of 60 and 64 years with carotid intima media thickness was used to assess the effect of lifetime exposure to adiposity on cardiovascular risk factors.
"Our study is unique because it followed individuals for such a long time, more than 60 years, and allowed us to assess the effect of modest, real-life changes in adiposity," said lead author Professor John Deanfield from University College London (UCL) in the UK.
"Our findings suggest that losing weight at any age can result in long-term cardiovascular health benefits, and support public health strategies and lifestyle modifications that help individuals who are overweight or obese to lose weight at all ages," Deanfield said.