Overweight Kindergarteners More Likely to Become Obese Teens

Illustration for article titled Overweight Kindergarteners More Likely to Become Obese Teens

Behold, one of the most depressing sentences you'll read today, courtesy of the AP: "A new study finds that much of a child's 'weight fate' is set by age 5." Quick! Put Big Bird and Paddington Bear on a diet! March your toddler down to Planet Fitness! Ban cupcakes!


That conclusion is drawn from new research out of Emory University, just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the AP:

Researchers think there may be a window of opportunity to prevent it, and "we keep pushing our critical window earlier and earlier on," said Solveig Cunningham, a scientist at Emory University. "A lot of the risk of obesity seems to be set, to some extent, really early in life."

The team tracked 7,700 kids through grammar school. Almost 12 percent of kids overall became obese between 5 and 14. 32 percent of overweight five-year-olds became obese—four times the rate of kids with normal weights. Almost half of the overweight kindergarteners ultimately became obese teens. According to NBC News:

"Our paper talks more to the timing than to what might actually work," Cunningham said. "But a lot of it is probably family-based. These are the ages in which kids' preferences and tastes and likes are set. By the age of 3, they already know what they like … and really promoting a healthy lifestyle and diverse diet at those early ages, really sets their preferences."

Look, it's important for kids to be active and to eat healthy, and in many ways, the deck is stacked against them. Our food supply is a poisonous joke, and I'd be quite the hypocrite if I criticized little kids for watching TV when I've never met a Bravo marathon I could resist.

But looking at those numbers, I mostly feel terrible for the preschoolers and kindergarteners who're going to get singled out. The lead scientist on the study suggests to the AP that parents should be aware of the issue and talk to their kids' doctors if they're concerned, and that it might be best for schools to focus their healthy-eating-and-exercise energies on the kids that are already overweight. Sure, if you like making children miserable.


Maybe in a perfect world, adults could deliver lessons about veggies and playing outside without making kids feel like shit about themselves, hyperaware of their identity as a SOCIAL CRISIS. Unfortunately, a lot of people fear and loathe obese people, and they don't seem inclined to cut overweight kids any slack, either. Look at the reactions to Honey Boo Boo and Lil Terio. It's hard to see how we can help kids stay healthy until society gets its fat hate under control.

But maybe there's some way to clone Michelle Obama so she can run Let's Move campaigns at every single grade school in the country? Just a thought.


Photo via Getty


Yoga Nerd, Maybe Dead

This one study is getting a lot of press, but we've known this for years.

I was taught in pediatrics residency to counsel mothers of babies LESS THAN 6 MONTHS OLD who had weights >99th %ile about their baby's weight. I refused. For a couple of reasons:

1) My adoptive grandmother was a pediatrician. She died last year at 82, and gave her life to the care of children. She never had her own (one of the reasons she adopted my mother and my family). She gave me a few pearls of wisdom, and one of them was "If its a breastfed baby, I don't worry about their weight until they reach one." This is because weight charts are based on formula fed infants from DECADES ago. Most breastfed babies are at the 99th %ile. Its just not accurate.

2) I have some ethical standards. I try to practice evidence based medicine, but we have to remember that we are also treating human beings. While we may know that behaviors are set at a young age, what we DON'T know is what kind of impact lecturing families of toddlers and infants about their child's weight will have. As we know from our experiences with adults, stressing out about your weight, buying diet products, etc can make things WORSE.

Common sense, as always, should prevail: healthy foods, cut out the juice, play outside as much as you can. We need to stop letting our fear-mongering effect the lives of children and babies, or the poor parents tasked with raising them.