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Children getting fatter, younger

29th November 2011

Pre-school children brought up in the 1970s and 1980s weighed less, and had less risk of becoming overweight or obese, than children of the same age today, according to a recent US study.


Study author Ashlesha Datar, a senior economist at RAND Corporation in California, said that children who were already overweight were getting more and more so, and that there seemed to be a shift toward weight gain across the board.

He said that even children of normal weight were gaining weight.

Albert Rocchini, a professor of paediatrics at University of Michigan Children's Hospital, who was not involved in the study, said that the finding reinforced people's suspicions about what appeared to be an ongoing trend.

He said that the fact that there was so much weight gain among children was a little discouraging, and that the incidence of obesity was going up simply because everybody was getting heavier.

For the study, the researchers made an analysis of data on nearly 6,000 US children.

The children were from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, and seemed to represent a cross-section of the US population.

The children all had their height and weight measured while still in pre-school, as well as at regular intervals afterward, until puberty.

The researchers found that nearly 40% of the children were already at least in the 75th percentile for body mass index, or BMI.

On the other hand, three or four decades ago, when US scientists first began to measure the BMI of growing children, the same children would have been mostly in the 25th percentile.

Datar said that although the 75th percentile was still 'normal', there was still an increase, and that the difference between being in the 75th percentile and being overweight was not much.

US dieticians classify being in the 85th or 95th percentile as being overweight, and being above the 95th percentile as being obese.

At the same time as the average child's weight seemed closer to overweight than in previous decades, the scientists observed an increase in the number of children who are already overweight or obese.

In the current study, the researchers found that about 12% of children across the US may be obese, compared to 5% in the 1970s or 1980s.

Much of the weight gain seemed to take place between pre-school and the third year of compulsory education.

After Year 3, children seemed to stop gaining weight on the whole.

Datar said that, if a parent found their child was in the 75th percentile, they should be aware that such a child could become obese.

He said that, in such cases, families needed to reform their eating habits, food intake, and exercise routines.

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