The obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-olds in the U.S. has dropped by 43 percent over the last decade, a new report has found, the first indication that efforts to fight obesity are having a real impact.
The results overall were far from positive; there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults in the last 10 years (in fact, women age 60 or over found their obesity rate climb). A third of adults and 17 percent of youths are still obese, numbers that are fairly consistent with those from 10 years ago.
Still, this large fall in the number of obese 2- to 5-year olds is significant and encouraging, especially in the light of recent research that suggests a young child's weight is a strong predictor of his or her weight as an adult. Children who start kindergarten overweight are four times more likely than their normal weight peers to become obese by age 14, a recent study found.
Some obese or overweight kindergartners lost their excess weight, of course, and others gained weight as they grew older. But every year, the chances that a child would reverse course and either lose weight and reach a normal body mass or gain it and become overweight or obese diminished. By age 11, the study found, there were few additional fluctuations. Typically, those who were obese or overweight didn't shed pounds, and those who had maintained a normal weight didn't gain them.
“What is striking is the relative decrease in incidence after that initial blast of obesity that occurs by age 5," Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, the vice president of the Emory Global Health Institute in Atlanta told The New York Times. “It is almost as if, if you can make it to kindergarten without the weight, your chances are immensely better.”
Such research has challenged preconceived ideas about kids and extra pounds, as well as doctors' tendency to dismiss parents' concerns with the common (but now, it seems, scientifically inaccurate) assurance that it's just "baby fat."