Why your child’s weight in grade 5 could predict future obesity risk

The study’s based on data from nearly 4,000 randomly selected kids who took part in a health study in Alabama, Texas and California. Taryn Snell / Global News

TORONTO – Your child’s weight in Grade 5 could predict their path into obesity as adults, new U.S. research warns.

Kids who are overweight or obese by fifth grade have a higher risk of keeping on that weight into their teenage years, Boston researchers say. They’re pointing to a string of factors: watching too much television, having obese parents, and even having a negative body image.

“We know from prior studies that obesity in children is correlated with their likelihood of being obese when they are older,” lead researcher Dr. Mark Schuster, of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, said.

He suggests parents and doctors need to address childhood obesity at the onset instead of assuming kids will grow out of this phase.

“Not a lot of children become newly obese in adolescence. If a child is already obese in fifth grade, she is likely to remain obese, and most children who are obese in tenth grade were already obese before adolescence. We cannot depend on the idea that a child will ‘grow out of it’ as they get older,” Schuster said.

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READ MORE: Your child’s weight in kindergarten could predict obesity later on

The study’s based on data from nearly 4,000 randomly selected kids who took part in a health study in Alabama, Texas and California. The kids were recruited into the study in Grade 5 between 2004 and 2006.

Five years later, the scientists contacted the children and their families again in Grade 10 to document their weight and daily eating habits.

“We studied these children before most had entered adolescence and then again when they were in the middle of their teens. This allowed us to avoid confounding changes related to the onset of puberty,” Schuster explained.

READ MORE: Do babies inherit junk food addictions from their moms?

Turns out, 83 per cent of obese high school students were obese in Grade 5. Eighty-seven per cent of normal weight kids kept at a normal weight into their teenage years.

And there were striking habits that helped the kids lose weight or keep it on: Obese kids had a 37 per cent change of losing weight if they didn’t perceive themselves as much heavier. If they watched 30 hours of TV per week and had an obese parent, they had a 21 per cent chance of being obese by Grade 10.

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But race, education, activity levels and fast food consumption were also risk factors.

Schuster’s putting the onus on doctors to encourage families to lead healthier lifestyles.

His full findings were published this week in the journal Pediatrics.

It isn’t the first to find a link between childhood weight and adult health outcomes.

READ MORE: Sesame Street characters to be used to help encourage kids to eat fruit, veggies

A study released last January suggested that kids who are overweight in kindergarten are four times more likely to be obese by their eighth grade graduation.

“Our findings uncovered several important points by examining incidence over time,” lead author Dr. Solveig Cunningham, of Emory University, said in a statement.

“We have evidence that certain factors established before birth and during the first five years are important. Obesity-prevention efforts focused on children who are overweight by five years old may be a way to target children susceptible to becoming obese later in life,” she said.

READ MORE: Preschoolers’ eating habits linked to future heart health risks

The study is based on the health data of children who participated in an early childhood longitudinal study in 1998-99 that spanned nine years. Cunningham and his team looked at the rates of obesity in the kindergarten kids and their subsequent years.

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Over 12 per cent of kids entered kindergarten as obese — another 14 per cent were considered overweight.

Kids who were large at birth and overweight by kindergarten were at the highest risk of becoming obese before age 14.

By eighth grade, 17 per cent of the kids were overweight and 20.8 per cent were categorized as obese. Half of the obese teens were overweight kindergarteners.

The pattern suggests that our health — even during pregnancy and early childhood — is “set fairly early in life.”

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