A major new study of more than 7,000 children nationwide found that a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by eighth grade. And almost every child who was very obese* at age 5 remained that way at age 14.
In Colorado, 8.4 percent of children ages 2-4 years were obese, and 14.5 percent were overweight, according to 2012 data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The health department recognizes childhood obesity as a serious public health threat and is working with schools, child care settings, health care providers, public health programs, community groups and families to increase physical activity and improve nutrition for expectant mothers, infants and young children.
“To ensure the promise of health for future generations, we must give Colorado children every opportunity, from a very early age, for healthy food and active play,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, the department’s executive director and chief medical officer.
The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says obesity is established early in life and, without lifestyle changes, continues through adolescence into adulthood. The study raises important questions about how early obesity begins and the roles of early-life home and preschool environments, factors during pregnancy and genetic predisposition. Results show the importance of reaching children early in life and working with expectant mothers, parents and caregivers to protect children from a lifetime of obesity and poor health.
The department’s early childhood obesity experts have joined parents and caregivers in creating the following key messages about maintaining a healthy weight in children from conception through adolescence:
● Healthy eating and staying active while you are pregnant matters for you and your baby’s health.
● Give yourself and your baby all the benefits of breastfeeding. Feed your baby only breast milk for the first six months.
● Trust your baby to know how much he or she needs to eat. Your baby will show you signals of hunger and fullness and will trust you to respond.
● Give your child nutritious food and active play for a healthy future. Offer your child daily opportunities for physical activity and a healthy diet consisting of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat milk.
● Turn off the TV and play together as a family. Young children who have more than two hours of screen time a day are more likely to be overweight or obese.
● Rethink your drink – choose water! Extra calories from sugar-sweetened beverages may lead to weight gain in children and adolescents.
● Gaining the right amount of weight during pregnancy helps you have a healthy baby. Talk to your health care provider to find out how much weight gain is best for you and your baby.
● There’s no power like parent power! Eat well and move more to care for yourself and your family.
These common-sense steps early in life will help prevent obesity before it starts and ensure Colorado remains the least obese state in the nation.