Overweight Children May Grow Into Obese Teens

Overweight kindergarteners were more likely to be obese as teenagers than normal weight kindergarteners

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Childhood obesity poses a large health problem for the United States. Yet, there is still very little data on when the risk for obesity begins.

A recent study found that obesity was often established by the age of 5.

The researchers suggested that obesity prevention programs aimed at young, overweight children may useful in identifying children who are likely to become obese later in life.

"Ask a pediatrician for help controlling your child's weight."

The lead author of this study was Solveig A. Cunningham, PhD, from the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

This study included 7,783 children who were in kindergarten in 1998 and who were then followed to eighth grade in 2007. Of these participants, 3,865 were boys and 4,822 were non-Hispanic white.

The average age of the children was 6 years old when they entered kindergarten and 14 years old when they entered eighth grade.

At the start of the study, 6,807 participants were not obese.

Upon entering kindergarten, 12 percent of the children were obese and 15 percent were overweight. By the beginning of eighth grade, 21 percent of the children were obese and 17 percent were overweight.

The rate of obesity from kindergarten to fifth grade rose from 12 percent to 22 percent. However, the rate did not significantly change between 11 and 14 years old (fifth to eighth grade) — going from 22 percent to 21 percent.

Children who were overweight in kindergarten were four times more likely to become obese than the normal-weight children.

Hispanic children had a significantly higher rate of obesity compared to the non-Hispanic white children during every year of the study.

The findings revealed that the greatest increase in obesity prevalence for the overall study population happened between first and third grade.

Of all the children in this study, 13 percent were obese in first grade and 19 percent were obese in third grade.

The children from the wealthiest families had the lowest prevalence of obesity in kindergarten compared to participants of any other socioeconomic status.

The researchers discovered that the children who weighed 4,000 grams or more (around 8.8 pounds) at birth had a significantly higher prevalence of obesity than those who weighed no more than 3,999 grams at birth.

Only 13 percent of the children who were normal weight in eighth grade had been overweight in kindergarten.

The authors mentioned a few limitations of their study. First, the researchers did not have data on the children's weight between birth and kindergarten or after eighth grade. Second, the findings were only representative of children in kindergarten in 1998 and 1999 and may not accurately reflect the experiences of older or younger children. Third, the study did not consider factors associated with the development of obesity.

This study was published on January 29 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development provided funding.

Review Date: 
January 29, 2014
Last Updated:
January 30, 2014