As many as six in ten U.S. children could be obese by the time they are 35 years old. That sobering news comes from a study conducted by "Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study" (CHOICES).
The numbers are a result of data entered into a computer. The investigators first combined height and weight data from five studies involving about 41,500 children and adults. The computer then generated a representative sample of 1 million "virtual" children up to the age of 19, living in the year 2016. The model then predicted how obesity rates would unfold until all the virtual children turned 35.
The model indicated that being overweight or obese early in life bumped up the risk for being obese later in life. In addition, the more overweight or obese someone was as a child, the greater the person's chance of being obese by age 35.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 20 percent of American children between the ages of 6 and 19 years of age are currently obese. That reflects a tripling of the number since the 1970s.
The study’s lead author, Zachary Ward, a doctoral candidate in health policy with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health Decision Science, in Boston, noted that the results were not unexpected.
"It should not be surprising that we are heading in this direction. We are already approaching this level of adult obesity for certain subgroups [and] areas of the country." Ward said.
Still, Ward expressed some surprise at how strongly being obese at a very young age predicted obesity decades down the road.
"For example, we found that three out of four 2-year-olds with obesity will still have obesity at age 35," he said. "For 2-year-olds with severe obesity, that number is four out five."
Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, was also not surprised at the findings.
"Trends show obesity occurring earlier in adulthood, and [the] current level of childhood obesity suggests that the trend will continue," said Sandon, who was not involved with the analysis.
Because "obesity is difficult to reverse at any age," she said, prevention is key. Parents should not rely solely on public school nutrition and activity programs to do the job.
Earlier studies have suggested that obesity in children may begin in the womb if the mother is obese when she becomes pregnant, and develops gestational diabetes. This combination can produce a large child at birth. Studies have shown that babies born with higher amounts of fat at birth tend to continue having more body fat in childhood and on into adulthood.
Experts recommend that overweight women that are considering becoming pregnant, first lose the extra weight and be tested for type2 diabetes. If they are found to have type2 diabetes before they're pregnant, they should be treated beforehand; this will help their pregnancy and prevent complications.
Sandon also notes that there are other things parents can do to help insure a healthier child. "Concerned parents can make efforts to prepare and provide healthier foods at home, plan regular scheduled mealtimes, limit screen time, encourage participation in sports, encourage participation in active leisure time activities instead of more sedentary activities and, most of all, set an example by being active, having a healthy relationship with their own food choices and having regular mealtimes as well."
The study by Ward and his colleagues appears in the November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Story sources: Alan Mozes, https://www.webmd.com/children/news/20171129/60-percent-of-us-kids-could-be-obese-by-age-35#1
Lucilla Poston, Professor, https://www.news-medical.net/news/20170111/Childhood-obesity-starts-in-the-womb.aspx