Much of Childhood Obesity Starts before Kindergarten

New research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that much of childhood obesity starts before kindergarten. In a cohort of 7,738 children from the kindergarten class of 1998-99, half of those who developed obesity by age 14 had been overweight at age 5, and 75% had weights that were above the 70th percentile for body mass index.

This gives us a few things to think about. Let’s start with the whole “obesity is a choice not a disease” thing. People who cling to that cornerstone of weight bias need to start focusing their hostility on heavy kindergarteners. Or maybe they can just get mad at the parents.

For more sensible folks, it’s a clue that we need to re-think our approach to childhood obesity. Much of it is focused on school-age children — after the die is cast for many of them. Right now, for pre-schoolers, parents don’t get much help. Says Denise Willfley, a pediatric obesity expert and Councilor of the Obesity Society:

We can effectively treat these children. But other than entering them in research studies, parents can get help only by paying out of pocket about $1,500 to $3,000 for a year of treatment. Advice offered by a family doctor — if it is given at all — is usually ineffective.

I just  saw a mom who was in tears because her little girl, who is 11 years old, weight 212 pounds. The child has been overweight since she was a toddler, but the provider told her mom she would outgrow it.

Wachet auf!

Click here to read more in the New York Times, here to read the study, and here to read a companion editorial.

Happy Baby, photograph © crimfants / flickr

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