One in Five Two to Five Year Olds Obese Or Overweight: Consequences and Causes

I was interviewed by WABE, the Atlanta public radio station, because on July 10th, the CDC published on a number of important statistics about childhood obesity on their website.

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.1, 2

And the interviewer wanted to understand when and how it begins--and what parents can do to prevent their children from becoming overweight. I actually pointed out an even more frightening statistic:

According to the Institute of Medicine, 20% of 2-5 year olds are already overweight or obese--that's one in every 5 children already at that age--that has quadrupled from only 5% in 1980.

You probably already understand the reason for the concern--there are severe consequences for these children as the CDC points out: Immediate health effects:

  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.7
  • Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.8,9
  •  Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.5,6,10
Long-term health effects:
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults11-14 and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.6 One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.12
  • Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.15
WHEN DOES IT START?

During pregnancy for some, with studies showing that mothers who have gestational diabetes deliver babies who will remain obese throughout childhood and have an increased likelihood of developing diabetes themselves--unless they breastfeed, and then that increased risk returns to normal.

For other babies, the extra weight piles on if they are overfed, or if solids are added early on, or when they are started on juice (fruit juices have just as much sugar and as many calories as a Coca Cola). And sometimes, it comes on when the babies are given rice cereal in their bottles to lessen reflux. Even though, a teaspoon of cereal has only 5 calories, they add up quickly for babies who receive extra cereal with every bottle.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

1. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association 2012;307(5):483-490.

2. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Features on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012.

1. Freedman DS, Zuguo M, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS, Dietz WH. Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Journal of Pediatrics 2007;150(1):12–17.

2.Li C, Ford ES, Zhao G, Mokdad AH. Prevalence of pre-diabetes and its association with clustering of cardiometabolic risk factors and hyperinsulinemia among US adolescents: NHANES 2005–2006. Diabetes Care 2009;32:342–347.

3.CDC. National diabetes fact sheet: national estimates and general information on diabetes and prediabetes in the United States, 2011 [pdf 2.7M]. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

4.Dietz WH. Overweight in childhood and adolescence. New England Journal of Medicine 2004;350:855-857.

5.Guo SS, Chumlea WC. Tracking of body mass index in children in relation to overweight in adulthood. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999;70:S145–148.

6.Freedman DS, Kettel L, Serdula MK, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS. The relation of childhood BMI to adult adiposity: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics2005;115:22–27.

7.Freedman D, Wang J, Thornton JC, et al. Classification of body fatness by body mass index-for-age categories among children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 2009;163:801–811.

8.Freedman DS, Khan LK, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SA, Berenson GS. Relationship of childhood obesity to coronary heart disease risk factors in adulthood: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics 2001;108:712–718.

9.Kushi LH, Byers T, Doyle C, Bandera EV, McCullough M, Gansler T, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2006;56:254–281.

Dr. Stan Cohen 19 May 2015

Dr. Stan Cohen is one of our founders and our CEO as well as the Chairman of our Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Stan is an internationally recognized expert in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. He is a Read More

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