Many Kindergarteners Already on Road to Obesity, Study
WEDNESDAY, Nov. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Today's kindergarteners
are heavier than kids brought up in the 1970s and 1980s and appear
to be on the road to becoming overweight and obese in the years to
come, a new study finds.
"It's not just kids who are already overweight getting more and more so, there is an entire shift. Even those who are normal weight are gaining weight," said lead study author Ashlesha Datar, senior economist at RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif.
Researchers analyzed data on nearly 6,000 white, black and
Hispanic children who participated in the Early Childhood
Longitudinal Study -- a nationally representative sample -- and had
their height and weight measured over nine years, in kindergarten,
first, third, fifth and eighth grades.
The study found nearly 40 percent of kindergarteners had a body
mass index (BMI) in the 75th percentile or above, up from 25
percent in the 1970s and 1980s, when the growth charts were
developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
While a BMI in the 75th percentile is still in the normal range,
that child may be headed for being overweight or obese, Datar said.
And if they're already at the 75th percentile in kindergarten, they
don't have far to go before they tip into the overweight or obese
category, which puts them at risk of serious health problems as
Traditionally, a BMI in the 85th to 95th percentile is
considered overweight, while above the 95th percentile is obese.
The number of kids at the top of the scale has swelled too.
About 28 percent of kids from the current sample had a BMI in
the 85th to 95th percentiles, compared with 10 percent of earlier
generations, while 12 percent had a BMI above the 95th percentile,
compared with 5 percent of the earlier group of kids.
Gains in BMI were most striking among Hispanic children and
black girls, according to the study, published in the December
Percentile measures how a child stacks up to others his age. So,
a child in the 75th percentile for weight is presumably heavier
than 75 percent of other children his age, since children are
compared to one another. Therefore, by definition, 25 percent of
kids should be in that category.
But with so many kids heavier then they used to be, the old
weight distributions may not hold up, Datar said.
There were also fewer kids at the lower end of the weight
spectrum. About 14 percent were in the lowest fourth for weight
compared with 25 percent in earlier generations and 18 percent were
in the second lower quartile compared with 25 percent in earlier
The weight gain accelerated between kindergarten and third
grade. The proportion of kids in the top quartile (75th percentile
or above) was almost 48 percent by third grade, but weight gain
leveled off after that.
Experts said the findings show that to make an impact on
skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, programs to encourage better
eating habits and more physical activity have to start very early,
possibly even in preschool. Those programs also need to include
kids who are normal weight.
"If you find your child is in the 75th percentile, it should be warning to you that your child is at higher risk of being an obese adult, and you need to start thinking about what your family is doing as far as eating habits, food intake and exercise," Datar said.
The reasons that America's kids are getting heavier overall
aren't fully understood, but there are many possibilities, said Dr.
Albert Rocchini, a professor of pediatrics at University of
Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
These include the ready availability and convenience of
high-fat, high-sugar and highly caloric snack and processed foods
and less physical activity because of video games, TV and less
outdoor play time. Many families rely more on fast food and
restaurant food, which tend to pack more calories than home-cooked
"This study reinforces what people are noticing, and it's a little discouraging," said Rocchini. "The incidence of obesity is going up because everybody is getting heavier," he said.
For health reasons, it's important to get a child's weight gain
under control, he added. A study recently published in the
New England Journal of Medicine found that obese children who
became obese adults were at much higher risk of type 2 diabetes,
high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent
Psychiatry has more on childhood obesity.
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