Childhood obesity is a problem that should be addressed as soon as possible. Baby fat lingering around a 5-year-old’s face (and stomach and thighs) may be an indicator of his or her weight for years to come, a new study suggests. Children who enter kindergarten overweight are four times more likely than their normal weight counterparts to become obese by age 14, researchers say.
Though recent studies have shown signs of progress in the fight against childhood obesity, an estimated one out of every eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers jump even higher in African-American and Hispanic populations, at one in five and one in six, respectively.
The new study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests a big part of childhood obesity risk is already established by the young age of 5. Interventions to combat childhood obesity may need to focus on those children who are overweight early in life, the study authors say per NBC Montana.
Researchers followed 7,700 children who started kindergarten in 1998. The children’s weight and height were measured seven times between the start of the study and the time they turned 14 in 2007.
At the beginning of the study, 12.4 percent of the children were obese, and another 14.9 percent were overweight.
The researchers then determined the overall obesity incidence each year, and broke down the obesity rate by socioeconomic status, race, sex, birth weight and kindergarten weight.
By eighth grade, the study found 20.8 percent of the children were obese and 17 percent were overweight.
Half of the children who were obese at 14 had been part of the 14.9 percent who were initially overweight as kindergarteners; 75 percent had been in the 70th BMI percentile or above.
Steven Gortmaker and Elsie Taveras wrote in an accompanying editorial in the journal that doctors and teacher’s need help to fight childhood obesity. The battle starts at home, and can help reduce early weight gain and the risk of obesity.