Experts: Obesity often starts before kindergarten

By Bobby Bozeman TimesDaily | 2/21/2014, 11:33 a.m.
Nearly half of kids who started kindergarten overweight became obese teens.

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that among children between ages 5 and 14, nearly 12 percent developed obesity - 10 percent of girls and nearly 14 percent of boys.

The study finds that much of a child’s "weight fate’’ is set by age 5, and that nearly half of kids who became obese by the eighth grade were overweight when they started kindergarten.

Nearly half of kids who started kindergarten overweight became obese teens. Overweight 5-year-olds were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese (32 percent versus 8 percent).

The study tracked a nationwide sample of more than 7,700 children through grade school.

Dr. David Colvard, of the Infants and Children’s Clinic in Florence, echoed the results of the study, saying children who are overweight have an increased risk of all the problems associated with overweight adults.

"Recent studies have shown increasing problems for adults who were overweight as children,’’ he said, in an email correspondence.

"We are seeing more children with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver problems. And these problems worsen with time.’’

Lee Renfroe, an associate professor of health promotion at the University of North Alabama, said a child’s weight is largely determined by the environment they grow up in.

"You need to look at the genetic possibility, but you also have to examine the environment by the people who raised you,’’ she said.

"If they eat a poor diet, the child will also eat a poor diet. If they are inactive, the child is inactive. But it’s not a life sentence.’’

Meredith Pate, a dietitian at Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, said a person is more likely to be overweight if the parents are overweight.

"I can remember as a kid, we were outside playing, riding around the neighborhood,’’ she said.

"Kids don’t do that now. People are eating out more, portion sizes are bigger.’’

But responsibility, especially for younger children falls to the parents, Pate said.

"Plan better,’’ she said. "I’m guilty of it, too. My daughter had piano lessons. What did we do? We went through the drive-thru.

"I should have planned better. If you just plan better, you can do a lot better for your family and for yourself.’’

Parents who are concerned about a child’s weight should talk with their child’s doctor, because it may be hard to tell what is normal at various ages, and appearances can be misleading.

In children, obesity and overweight are defined by how a child ranks on growth charts that compare them to other kids the same age and gender.

Kids at or above the 85th percentile are considered overweight and are considered obese at the 95th percentile or above.

But no child should be placed on a diet without a doctor’s advice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises.

"My number one thing is don’t put them on a diet or make comments about how much they’re eating,’’ said Pate, who was put on a diet as an 11-year-old. "That will lead to putting bad thoughts in their head.