Children who enter kindergarten overweight are 4 times more likely than their average weight counterparts to be overweight or obese in the teen and adult years, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study, conducted over 9 years, followed 7,000 children from kindergarten to 8th grade. Of those children, a third who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by 8th grade. Of the children who became obese between the ages of 5 and 14, nearly half had been overweight and 75 percent had been above the 70th percentile for body-mass index at age 5.
Experts say the results of the study suggest that obesity is established as early as age 5, and excess weight at a young age tends to stay with the child throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
Melody Case, a wellness and youth fitness specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley campus, said the findings of the study are consistent with what she sees on a daily basis.
“We see kids in kindergarten through 8th grade who are obese,” Case said. “As they get older, it doesn’t get any better.”
Although genetics are a factor in a child’s risk for obesity, parents and children can still make healthy lifestyle choices to control that risk. It comes down to education and making the right choices.
“We have a lot of parents needing things now, needing things quick, including food, which leads to poor food choices,” Case said. “There needs to be more education on the effects of poor eating habits in young children. We see kids with heart issues at 18 years old. Parents need to see the dire consequences of sedentary lifestyles.”
Reaching kids while they’re young is another good way to combat obesity in children and teens.
“We need to teach kids about healthy choices when they are very young, when we are already teaching them other new concepts like their letters, numbers and how to share,” said Case. “They’re very receptive at that age.”
But it’s never too late for anyone.
“Any age is never too late. Parents can learn how to modify their lifestyles so they set a good example for their kids,” Case said. “That’s what is most important. We want healthy families.”
Akron Children’s Hospital offers a physician-based, specialized program called Future Fitness Clinic for obese and overweight kids age 7 to 18 who want to lose weight safely and effectively. Through the Kohl’s Cares Community Youth Fitness Program, Children’s is also partnering with schools in the Akron and Mahoning Valley areas to educate kids in 3rd through 6th grade about exercise, nutrition and reducing their screen time. For more information about these programs, contact Case at 330-746-8716.