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Kids Entering Kindergarten Overweight, Staying Overweight

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena

If you thought that working on obesity in early childhood matter, consider this: In kindergarten, more than one in four U.S. children is overweight or obese.

If there wasn’t enough reason to try and arrest the obesity epidemic earlier among children in the United States, a newly published study in the  confirms the obesity we find prevalent and persistent in youth is often found at kindergarten, according to new research published in the Jan. 30th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, a significant proportion of those obese in early childhood stay overweight when followed.

The analysis of federal data by Dr. Solveig Cunningham and other Emory University researchers found that the pathway to obesity starts in childhood and that 37% of children are obese or overweight in eighth grade.

One of the chilling findings was the persistent obesity over time:

Present results indicate that the lower the relative BMI of a given child at kindergarten entrance, the lower the risk of obesity by eighth grade. However, a child who is obese at kindergarten entrance has a 47% risk of being obese by eighth grade, similar to the 54% reported in another national cohort in 2000. When kindergartners at the 99th percentile for weight were followed, 72% were obese by eighth grade.

By the time they enter kindergarten, 12.4% of American children are already obese, and 14.9% are overweight. Almost half the obesity incidence from kindergarten through eighth grade occurs among children who were overweight as kindergartners. Furthermore, 36% of incident obesity between the ages of 5 and 14 years occurred among children who were large at birth. These findings highlight the importance of further research to understand the factors associated with the development of overweight during the first years of life. We speculate that obesity-prevention efforts that are focused on children who are overweight by the age of 5 years may be a way to target the children who are most susceptible to becoming obese during later childhood and adolescence.

Read the abstract, and the accompanying editorial in NEJM

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