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Overweight kindergartners four times more likely to become obese

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According to new research published to the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 30, obesity in children between the ages of five and fourteen years was more likely to have occurred at younger ages, primarily among children who had entered kindergarten overweight.

Funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999 was analyzed of which 7738 participants were measured from kindergartners (mean age of 5.6) through eighth grade (mean age 14.1).

Researchers found 12.4% of the participants to be obese initially in kindergarten, while 14.9% were overweight respectively. By eighth grade, the number of obese participants had increased to 20.8%, while 17.0% were now overweight. The data showed that the five year olds who were overweight at the beginning were four times more likely than the normal-weight children to become obese by age fourteen. Of the children studied who became obese between the ages of five and fourteen years, nearly half had been overweight at the start.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) obese children are more likely to become obese adults and more susceptible to serious and costly health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.

But the health risks can impact children even before adulthood: obese children are more prone to having high blood pressure and high cholesterol, impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, breathing and joint problems, fatty liver disease, and even gallstones. Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.

The CDC recommends that parents can help prevent childhood overweight and obesity and the subsequent health risks by balancing the calories children consume from foods and beverages with the calories utilized through physical activity and growth. They emphasize a focus on reducing the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development, and to not place children and teens on a weight reduction diet without first consulting a health care provider. Encourage healthy eating habits, and look for ways to make favorite dishes healthier, and reducing calorie-rich temptations.

Incidence of Childhood Obesity in the United States N Engl J Med 2014; 370:403-411, Jan 30, 2014, Solveig A. Cunningham, Ph.D., Michael R. Kramer, Ph.D., and K.M. Venkat Narayan, M.D.

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