NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 5, 2006

About 60 percent of toddlers and preschoolers who are overweight or obese during their preschool years still weigh too much at age 12, setting them on a path toward adult obesity and its attendant health problems, according to a new study in September's Pediatrics.

The finding could be a rude surprise to parents who think children will outgrow their baby fat.  Research shows that overweight children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol and other weight-related health problems.

Scientists at 10 U.S. universities examined the records of 1,042 children whose height and weight were recorded seven times from ages 2 to 12.  They found:

  • Some 80 percent of children who were overweight or obese during their early school years were overweight or obese at age 12.
  • At least 40 percent of kids who were in the 50th percentile or above by age 3 were overweight or obese at 12.
  • The more times a child reached the "overweight" category during the preschool and elementary school years, the more likely he was to be overweight at age 12.

"This is sobering but not hopeless," says lead author Philip Nader, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.  "We can be comfortable as pediatricians counseling parents to act early to make sure that kids get plenty of exercise, limit TV time, eat healthy foods, eat less fast foods."

Says Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, "This research means that lots of kids are going to be at risk for serious diseases decades before they should be.  We don't have the luxury anymore to see if kids will outgrow their baby fat, because they are not doing it."

Source: Nanci Hellmich, "Most overweight toddlers don't lose their baby fat," USA Today, September 5, 2006; based upon: Philip R. Nader et al., "Identifying Risk for Obesity in Early Childhood," Pediatrics, Vol. 118 No. 3 September 2006.

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