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Road to obesity may begin by age two

Aug. 2 , 2008
Courtesy Children's Hospital 
of The King's Daughters, Va.
and World Science staff

Chil­dren of­ten be­come over­weight by age two—thereby hit­ting a “tip­ping point” on the road to obes­ity, re­search­ers said Fri­day.

“Doc­tors may want to start re­view­ing the di­et of chil­dren” that ear­ly, said John W. Har­ring­ton, a pe­di­a­tri­cian at Vir­gini­a’s Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal of The King’s Daugh­ters. “By the time they reach eight years old, they’re al­ready far in­to the over­weight cat­e­go­ry, mak­ing treat­ment more dif­fi­cult.”

Children can learn early in life to en­joy nu­tri­tious foods, ex­perts say. (Photo by Scott Bauer/cour­tesy US­DA)


Har­ring­ton and col­leagues stud­ied records of 111 over­weight chil­dren from a sub­ur­ban pe­di­at­ric prac­tice. 

They found over half the young­sters could be con­sid­ered over­weight by their sec­ond birth­day. Even more dis­turb­ing, they found, the obese young­sters had been grad­u­ally put­ting on ex­tra pounds since three months of age on av­er­age.

Over the last dec­ade, child­hood obes­ity has be­come an ep­i­dem­ic, re­flected in soar­ing rates of type 2 di­a­be­tes and rec­om­menda­t­ions that doc­tors check tod­dlers for high cho­les­ter­ol. What has­n’t been as clear is how early to in­ter­vene.

In the stu­dy, all the chil­dren, av­er­ag­ing age 12, had their height and weight meas­ured at least five times in doc­tors’ vis­its, the re­search­ers said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors al­so tal­lied the youths’ body mass in­dex, or BMI, a meas­ure of how over- or un­der­weight a per­son may be. Chil­dren whose BMI ex­ceeded that of 85 per­cent of the gen­er­al popula­t­ion were clas­si­fied as over­weight. Nine­ty per­cent were re­corded as over­weight be­fore age five.

Har­ring­ton con­ducted the study with Law­rence Pasquinelli, a pe­di­a­tri­cian with Tide­wat­er Chil­dren’s As­so­ci­ates in Vir­gin­ia Beach, Va., and Vu Nguyen, a sec­ond-year stu­dent at East­ern Vir­gin­ia Med­i­cal School. Nguyen who pre­sented the re­sults Fri­day at a pe­di­at­ric re­search schol­ars pro­gram. More re­search is needed to find out the causes of early obes­ity and what in­ter­ven­tions might work, Har­ring­ton said.

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Children often become overweight by age two—thereby hitting a “tipping point” on the road to obesity, according to a study presented at a conference Friday. “Doctors may want to start reviewing the diet of children” that early, said John W. Harrington, a pediatrician at Virginia’s Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters. “By the time they reach eight years old, they’re already far into the overweight category, making treatment more difficult.” Harrington and colleagues studied records of 111 overweight children from a suburban pediatric practice. They found over half the youngsters could be considered overweight by the end of their second year. Even more disturbing, they found, the obese youngsters had been gradually putting on extra pounds since three months of age on average. Over the last decade, childhood obesity has become an epidemic, reflected in soaring rates of type 2 diabetes and recommendations that pediatricians check toddlers for elevated cholesterol. What hasn’t been as clear is how early to intervene. In the study, all the children, averaging age 12, had their height and weight measured at least five times in doctors’ visits, the researchers said. Investigators also tallied the youths’ body mass index, or BMI, a measure of how over- or underweight a person may be. Children whose BMI exceeded that of 85 percent of the general population were classified as overweight. Ninety percent were recorded as overweight before age five. Harrington conducted the study with Lawrence Pasquinelli, a pediatrician with Tidewater Children’s Associates in Virginia Beach, Va., and Vu Nguyen, a second-year student at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Nguyen who presented the results Friday at a pediatric research scholars program. More research is needed to determine the causes of early obesity including “information on family history and the dietary and exercise habits in infancy,” said Harrington. “We may then have to look prospectively to see what interventions work.”