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Childhood obesity has lasting consequences, study finds | Gustafson
Parents of overweight children may think that a little baby fat is harmless and will disappear over time as their kids grow older, and often that is indeed the case.
However, according to a new study, kindergartners with weight problems are four times more likely to become obese as adolescents than their normal-weight peers. The sad fact is that certain tracks are set early, and they can lead to struggles with weight and related diseases for a lifetime.
“A lot of risk may be set by the age of five, so you really have to focus on those very young ages,” said Dr. Solveig Cunningham, professor of global health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and lead author of the study report. “What we are seeing is, among the kids that become obese, a lot of that happens the first few years in elementary school,” she added.
Even an excessively high birth weight may be associated with obesity risk, said Dr. Cunningham. Her research found that obesity rates at kindergarten age were twice as high for babies weighing more than 8.8 pounds at birth compared to those whose birth weight was lower.
The findings confirmed previous studies on correlations between obesity during childhood and throughout adolescence and adulthood. All concluded that the earlier children become overweight, the harder it will be to overcome weight problems and undo health damages later on, which can include diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in young children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The percentage of obese children aged 6 to 11 years in the United States increased from 7 to 18 percent; similarly, the percentage of obese adolescents aged 12 to 19 years went from 5 to 18 percent over the same time period.
In order to curb these dismal trends, parents, healthcare providers, schools and policy makers must work together to create a health-promoting environment from the start.
“It will take a groundswell effort from all partners to make a lasting impact on getting kids to eat right,” says Jill Castle, a Registered Dietitian who specializes in pediatric nutrition.
Parents are bombarded with information about nutrition for their young ones, but it is a hodge-podge of ever-changing and sometimes contradictory advice, which leaves them more confused than educated, she says. It is up to pediatricians and other healthcare professionals to fill in the gaps and help parents better understand the extraordinary importance of nutritional well-being at a young age.
Parents need to lead by example, meaning that their own actions matter greatly when it comes to cultivating good eating habits at home. That starts with making healthy choices at the grocery store. All kids can find in the fridge or pantry is what parents put there. At least as long as their children are too young to buy their own food, parents function as gatekeepers – and they should take that job seriously.
Schools also play a major role, and much more work needs to be done here. Despite of increased legislative efforts to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches, not enough funding is made available to make a real difference. Especially children from low-income families desperately need these meals, which are oftentimes the only food source they can depend on all day.
Last but not least, as a society, we must come to a clearer understanding that millions of overfed and undernourished children are a concern for all of us. As the First Lady, Michelle Obama, once put it, “Childhood obesity isn’t just a public health issue, or just an economic threat, it’s a national security threat as well.”
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter, on Facebook, Google+ and on Pinterest.