Study: Childhood obesity between ages 5 and 14 could be adult obesity indicator

August 7, 2017
Solveig Cunningham

Obesity in early childhood is frequently not a passing phase and poses long term risks, according to a study by researchers at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health and the University of Southern California.  Children in the study who developed obesity by the time they entered kindergarten most frequently did not reach normal weight later in childhood.

Led by Solveig A. Cunningham PhD, researcher in the Hubert Department of Global Health at Rollins, the team analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999. They examined children's growth patterns over time with a focus on how those who developed obesity grew subsequently.

Thirty percent of U.S. elementary school children in the study experienced obesity at some point between ages five and 14. The majority of children who developed obesity remained obese, and this was particularly marked for children who developed obesity early on.

"Our findings indicate that children who are measured as having obesity even at one health visit during the early elementary school years are at risk for long-term obesity," explains Cunningham. "These results show that childhood obesity is often not a passing phenomenon, as some people believe. Based on this knowledge, prevention should be targeted toward early childhood.

"How much a child's body mass index (BMI) changes during that year in kindergarten is a very significant predictor of whether they will have 'entrenched obesity,'" explains Ashlesha Datar, PhD, a co-author and senior economist at the University of Southern California's Center for Economic and Social Research.

"You can reach a large number of kids in the school setting and provide them with healthier opportunities such as physical education classes and nutritional education. Children in kindergarten are at an age when they look to teachers for guidance, so teachers and schools can have an important role in influencing their health, activities and habits."

Complete findings are available online at The Annals of Epidemiology.