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D.iet & H.ealth : B.ody W.eight Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Baby fat ups risk of overweight and obesity in adolescence
By Kathy Jones
Sep 5, 2006, 15:50

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5 Sep, ( - Chubby toddlers are unlikely to shed excess weight and grow up as overweight and obese pre-teens, a new study has found. Children who are overweight at any stage before the age of 12 will either be overweight or obese in their adolescence, the study said.

The study dispels the notion that baby fat sheds on its own as children grow up. Overweight children are most likely to grow up as overweight for the rest of their childhood, the collaborative study by the NIH and several academic institutions said.

Previous studies have highlighted the fact that childhood obesity is a risk factor for obesity into adulthood. Obesity is also associated with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. However the earlier studies recorded height, weight and other measurements at sporadic intervals in childhood and 1 or 2 intervals in later life.

The current study followed the children from age 2 to age 12 and recorded the basic height and weight measurements at frequent intervals. It appears in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"The problem of obesity and overweight in kids is they don't outgrow it," said lead author Dr. Philip R. Nader, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego. "A lot of people think that baby fat will go away and not to be too concerned, but this isn't the case."

The researchers collected data on 1,000 children born in 1991 when the overweight and obesity epidemic was in its infancy. Dr Nader said that these children were ideal since they grew up when people began to realize the importance of maintaining ideal weight.

Measurements of the children’s height and weight were collected when the children were ages 2, 3, 4 ½, 7, 9, 11, and 12. For analyzing the weight, the researchers calculated the body mass index, or BMI of the children. BMI is a standard measure calculated from an individual’s height and weight.

Children were classified as overweight if their BMI was at or above the 85th percentile in comparison to national statistics for children their age.

Children who were overweight at least once from ages 2 to 4 ½ were 5 times more likely to be overweight at age 12 as compared to their normal weight peers between ages 2 to 4 ½. Additionally, the more times a child was overweight from ages 7 through 11, the greater the chances the child would be overweight at age 12 in comparison to children who were not overweight from ages 7 through 11.

School going children who were overweight at least once during these years had a 25-fold greater chance of being overweight at age 12. The risk increased by 159-fold if the child was overweight at two measurements, 374-fold if they were overweight at three or more measurements.

Overall, the researchers said that 60 percent of children who were overweight at least once during the preschool years, and 80 percent of children who were overweight during elementary school, were overweight at the age 12.

"Something needs to be done with the environment that's helping all these kids become overweight," Nader said. "As a society, we need to do something more to insure that kids have a safe place to play, get plenty of exercise and have a healthy diet."

"Parents should demand that the environment that their child is exposed to include healthy foods, less exposure to TV and sedentary activities, and safe, active places for physical activity, including neighborhood parks and quality physical education in schools," Nader added.

The study also found that children who were not overweight, but had the risk of being overweight were also likely to end up with excess weight by the age 12.

The study cited the example of 4 ½ year old children with BMIs between the 50th and 75th percentile were 4 times more likely to be overweight at age 12 than were children below the 50th percentile at age 4 ½.

Obesity is affecting children of younger age with alarming frequency over the past three decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses “overweight” to refer to the highest body mass index for children and adolescents. The fact that children and adolescents are hovering on the brink is borne out by the fact that type 2 diabetes is at an all-time high in American children.

The World Health Organization has declared obesity as a global epidemic having major health implications in 1997. A recent report published in the April 5 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association had revealed that obesity levels are peaking in American children and adolescents.

The report, based on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted during 2003-2004 took the height and weight measurements of 4,000 U.S. children and adolescents and found that 33.6 percent of children and adolescents were overweight in 2003-04. This figure was worse as compared to as compared to about 28.2 percent in NHANES 1999-2000 study.

“Contrary to popular belief, young children who are overweight or obese typically won’t lose the extra weight simply as a result of getting older," said Duane Alexander, M.D., the Director of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the study.

Dr Nader feels pediatricians can play a vital role in overseeing children who are overweight early on. “Identifying children at risk for adolescent obesity provides physicians with an opportunity for earlier intervention with the goal of limiting the progression of abnormal weight gain that results in the development of obesity-related morbidity," he said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages doctors and other healthcare professionals to play a bigger role in fostering healthy living in children. Its policy statement called "Active Healthy Living: Prevention of Childhood Obesity Through Increased Physical Activity," appeared in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The report recommends that community and school programs aimed at getting children active are to be instituted.

Physicians should encourage "healthy nutrition, reducing sedentary time, and increasing physical activity levels while providing education and health supervision about regular physical activity and reduced sedentary time to families in their practices."

Dr. David L. Katz, an associate professor of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine said that the findings of the current study were worrisome. "Nearly all children are vulnerable to epidemic obesity and the risk of diabetes," Katz said, "We must do more than address these threats in the clinical setting."

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