It is no longer a disputed fact as to whether or not obesity is an epidemic, especially here in the United States. Obesity rates in children have doubled over the past 30 years, while obesity rates in adolescents have tripled. In 2013, the CDC reports that over 1/3 of US adults are currently obese. Despite acknowledging the issues, scientists have yet to find out what really causes obesity, or how to recognize that an individual is on the road to obesity.
A recent report released from researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Georgia has shed some light on the subject, however. The report, led by Solveig Cunningham and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, states that obesity may be determined in an individual as early as age 5.
Cunningham and fellow researchers used data from a longitudinal study conducted amongst more than 7,700 kindergarten-aged children starting in 1998 and 1999 and continuing until the children reached 8th grade. The results were fairly conclusive that one can predict whether or not a child will be obese in the future by the child’s weight when he or she reaches kindergarten.
At the beginning of kindergarten, 12% of the children studied were already obese, and 15% were overweight. By the time those children reached 8th grade, 21% were obese and 17% were overweight.
The study showed the biggest increase in weight amongst those who were already overweight at the start of kindergarten, with those children being 8 times more likely to become obese than those kids who were at a normal weight when beginning kindergarten.
The study also showed a prevalence of becoming obese amongst those who were of an ethnic minority or who grew up in a lower socioeconomic class.
While the results are encouraging toward understanding the causes of obesity, it does little to offer solutions to the problem. A recent study stemming from UC Davis does just that, however. In an attempt to halt obesity before it begins, researchers at UC Davis encouraged pediatric doctors to start using electronic health records (EHRs) to indicate whenever a child weighed in at a weight which would qualify him or her as overweight. While the EHRs did much to increase the number of those reported as overweight and scheduled checks for diabetes, referrals to dietitians remained stagnant.
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