When it comes to fighting obesity, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to think younger. A new study of more than 7,000 children has found that much of a child’s “weight fate” is set by age five. According to the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by eighth grade, and almost every child who was very obese remained that way.
“A lot of the risk of obesity seems to be set, to some extent, really early in life,” said Solveig Cunningham, a scientist at Emory University who led the study.
The study shows that children who are obese carry with them an extremely high risk of obesity in adolescence and adulthood. Given how difficult it is to redirect the course and treat obesity in adults, more focus must be placed on the critical window of opportunity to prevent it in a child’s early years.
Most efforts to reduce childhood obesity – improving meals in schools, teaching nutrition, encouraging physical activity, and similar tactics – concentrate on school-age children and do not specifically target messages towards overweight children. But experts say that the results of this new study may change approaches to combating the obesity epidemic, suggesting that efforts must focus more on the children at great risk and start much earlier.
Here in North Carolina, the North Carolina Partnership for Children (NCPC) has instituted Shape NC: Healthy Starts for Young Children, a six-year, $6 million early childhood obesity prevention program by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Three years in to the initiative, Shape NC has dramatically improved child care environements across the state and increased the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The program has engaged 19 communities spanning 27 counties, and results show an improved access to healthy fruits and vegetables and increased physical activity for more than one thousand children.
“High obesity rates and rising health care costs are problems that we are facing as a nation and as a state,” said Dr. Nancy H. Brown, Chair of the Board of NCPC. “Shape NC effectively tackles these problems at their roots – our state’s youngest children. From healthy eating to outdoor classrooms, the program has helped provide children, child care center staff and families with positive experiences in nutrition and physical activity.”
To view a summary of the program’s three-year results, please click here.
CDC guidelines: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/basics.html
Tips for parents: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/index.html