Study: One in five 4-year-olds is obese

by Eric Schroeder
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COLUMBUS, OHIO — A new study led by researchers from The Ohio State University shows nearly one in five American 4-year-olds are obese based on body mass index (B.M.I.) scores, with the obesity rate sharply higher among American Indian children.

"The implications are that childhood obesity prevention efforts must begin early in life," said Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. "And these efforts might benefit from better understanding of how differences in obesity risk between racial and ethnic groups emerge so early."

The research, published in the April issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, analyzed height and weight data collected in 2005 on 8,550 children who were born in the United States in 2001. The data was collected as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, which is an ongoing study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Researchers then calculated the (B.M.I.) of the children, with B.M.I. scores at or above the 95th percentile on predetermined growth charts considered to be obese. No other data in regards to the children’s health or how much fat their bodies contained was considered.

Overall, the study found approximately 18.4% of 4-year-olds in the United States are considered obese, and broken down by racial and ethnic backgrounds, more than 31% of American Indian/Native Alaskan children fell into the obese category.

Also registering obesity levels above the average were Hispanics, at 22%, and blacks, at 20.8%. Meanwhile, the study found 15.9% of white children and 12.8% of Asian children had B.M.I. scores that rated them as obese.

"We know that there are disparities in prevalence of adult obesity across racial/ethnic groups, especially among women," Ms. Anderson said. "And we know these disparities may contribute to health disparities in diabetes, hypertension and other diseases in adulthood.

"This is certainly not about stigmatizing any particular subgroups. I think if we understand better how it is that these racial/ethnic disparities have come to be at such a young age, that can help us to design obesity prevention programs that will be useful before children enter school."

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