Coordinated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published this week in the September Pediatrics, the new analysis claims to provide the strongest evidence to date that overweight in later life is connected to overweight in early childhood.
"These findings underscore the need to maintain a healthy weight beginning in early childhood. Contrary to popular belief, young children who are overweight or obese typically won't lose the extra weight simply as a result of getting older," said Duane Alexander, director of the NIH's Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the study.
Previous studies have already extensively found that obese adolescents are more likely to become overweight as adults, thereby running a higher risk for the health conditions associated with obesity: cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.
But the researchers of the current study say that most previous studies have collected height and weight information only from a few intervals in childhood and one or two intervals in later life.
"The strength of the current analysis is that it was conducted on data collected during frequent intervals over an extended period of time, from age 2 through age 12," said the study's principal investigator, Philip Nader, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.
The researchers followed the development of over 1000 children from across the US, including children from ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged households.
They found that children who were overweight at least once from ages 2 to 4.5 were five times more likely to be overweight at age 12 when compared to children who were not overweight from ages 2 to 4.5. Additionally, the more times a child was overweight from ages 7 through 11, the greater the chances the child would be overweight at age 12.
"A child who was overweight once during the elementary school years was 25 times more likely to be overweight at age 12 than was a child who was not overweight during the elementary school period. Similarly, when compared to children who were not overweight, children who were overweight twice during the elementary period were 159 times more likely to be overweight at 12, and children overweight 3 times during elementary school were 374 times more likely to be overweight at 12," wrote the researchers.
According to Dr Nader, the findings suggest that parents concerned about their child's weight should consult pediatricians about helping them to establish more healthful diet and exercise patterns.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children considered to be overweight doubled from 7 percent to 14 percent between 1981 and 2001. And the most recent figures from the American Obesity Association reveal that around 16 percent of US children are currently classed as obese.
The dramatic rise in obesity has prompted widespread changes throughout the food industry, schools and communities in an effort to prevent the spreading epidemic.
Indeed, the Institute of Medicine is next week due to release a report on the nation's progress in preventing childhood obesity. The report will provide recommendations for government, industry, media, communities, schools, and families to collectively respond to the growing obesity epidemic in children and youth.