A new study says that children who are overweight at the age of five are four times more likely to be obese by age fourteen than five-year-olds who are at a healthy weight.
The new data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study conducted by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. The study involved 8000 children whose height and weight were tracked seven times between 1998, when they were in kindergarten, to 2007.
Overall, 27 percent of kids in the study were overweight or obese when they started school and that ratio increased to 38 percent by eighth grade.
"Half of childhood obesity occurred among children who had become overweight during the preschool years," researchers led by Solveig Cunningham of Emory University in Atlanta wrote.
"If we're just focused on improving weight when kids are adolescents, it may not have as much of an impact as focusing on the preschool-age years," Cunningham told Reuters Health. The study "doesn't tell us what to do about it, but it helps tell us when we need to think creatively about what to do."
Research has shown that the rate of childhood obesity rose from about 4 percent in the early 1960s to more than 15 percent by 2000. Most of that research was done in adolescents.
"However, since many of the processes leading to obesity start early in life, data with respect to incidence before adolescence are needed," the researchers noted in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Interestingly, the obesity rate rose rapidly between first and third grade, from 13 percent to almost 19 percent. Between fifth and eighth grades, the rate didn't increase significantly.
About 32 percent of kids who were overweight when they entered kindergarten had become obese by age 14. That compared to 8 percent of normal-weight kindergarteners.
Not all of the healthy weight five-years-old, continued to maintain a normal weight by the time they were teens, "Half of obese eighth graders do start out at normal weight," Cunningham said.
Other studies have said a child's chances of becoming overweight or obese may start as early as babyhood.
While roughly 11 percent of babies born weighing 8.8 pounds or less were obese by kindergarten, the rate was almost 23 percent for those born weighing more. By eighth grade, about 20 percent of children born with low or normal weights were obese and just over 31 percent of children with high birth weights were obese.
Experts say that the best thing that parents can do is to feed their kids in a healthy way from birth throughout their childhood. And of course, be a good example of someone who has a sensible relationship with food and lives a healthy lifestyle.
Source: Gene Emery, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/29/us-overweight-idUSBREA0S23V20140129