A new study on childhood obesity is causing waves in the media. The study, published in the January 30, 2014, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that a child’s weight and eating habits at age 5 were strong predictors of a child’s weight as he or she aged. The study’s lead author was Solveig Cunningham, PhD, assistant professor, Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
The study is noteworthy because it is the first to show that being overweight or obese very early in childhood is strongly related to obesity later in life. Previous studies have shown alarmingly high obesity rates in children of different ages, but haven’t tracked children over the course of several years to find a pattern.
To obtain their results, researchers examined data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which tracked the heights and weights of kindergarteners from 1998 and 1999 to 2007. They compared the heights and weights for more than 7,738 children with factors such as socioeconomic status, race, and ethnic group to determine if correlations exist. Some of the key findings include:
- Children who were overweight at age 5 were four times more likely to be obese between the ages of 5 and 14 than children who were not overweight at age 5. Nearly half the children who entered kindergarten overweight were obese as adolescents.
- Only 13 percent of children who were overweight in kindergarten were a normal weight in eighth grade.
- Children who entered preschool at a normal weight experienced the lowest rates of obesity between ages 5 and 14.
- An estimated 36 percent of children with a high birth weight were obese by age 14.
The idea that good habits start early is not an unusual one—but few researchers realized just how much early habits matter. While this does not mean preschoolers should be placed on diets or weight management programs, it does argue for healthy interventions at an early age. If your child falls into a high-risk categories, such as weighing more than 9 pounds at birth or weighing in the 85th percentile or greater at age 5, talk to your child’s doctor about healthy, safe interventions.
- Being overweight or obese at age 5 is a strong predictor of being overweight and obese in adolescence.
- Only 13 percent of children who were overweight at age 5 were a normal weight by age 14, according to a New England Journal of Medicine article.
- Parents should partner with their child’s physician and even school to help their child achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight.