Childhood Obesity Seen Even in Preschool
Parents, Schools Must Help Kids Lose Weight, Stay Healthy
Quattrin's study analyzed data on 385 children between ages 2 and 6, looking for signs of obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol. All children were being referred to a specialist because they were overweight.
At the initial visit, the child's parent or guardian was counseled on dietary and activity changes that would help the child lose weight.
Two years later, researchers again collected data on the children, finding that the children had all put on more weight despite the counseling their parents received. The children's body mass index (BMI) had increased on average from 29 to 32. In children, a BMI over 26 is considered overweight.
In fact, 86% of 177 children were obese before the age of 6, and children were obese for an average of three years before they were referred to a weight-loss specialist, reports Quattrin.
Children as young as age 4 had abnormally high insulin levels, she says, a risk factor for diabetes. In addition, 13% of 147 children who had cholesterol levels checked showed high cholesterol levels, a sign of liver function problems.
Clearly, educating parents and guardians did not make a difference in the children's obesity problem -- yet it's very important, researchers say. Parents and the school system have the most impact on tackling kids' obesity problem, they add.
It's true -- parents have the most impact on what their kids eat, more than sports celebrities or other kids, Sass says.
"Parents have a fundamental role to teach their child healthy habits at home," Sass tells WebMD. "If the family as a whole is trying to consume more vegetables, it's going to impact how small children eat."
Schools should let kids keep healthy snacks in their backpacks, she adds. "When a child needs to eat is more closely tied to physical activity. If they're eating more than they need, they will put on weight. If they're eating less than they need, they obviously are going to be fatigued and irritable. Parents help children learn how nutrition and physical activity go hand in hand."
Even though obesity can have a genetic component, other factors play important roles -- food available at home and school, watching too much TV, playing computer games, and not getting enough exercise, researchers add. Also, parents need to be better role models.