Researchers at Wright State University School of Medicine have found that obesity in adults tracks from two critical periods in childhood.
"This is vital information," says Dr. Shumei Guo, professor of community health. "We have not been very successful at reducing obesity in adults. Adult overweight should be prevented early when it starts to develop in childhood." Obesity in adults is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes and has become a major public health issue.
Between the ages of 4 and 8, children are at their leanest, reflected in a low BMI (body mass index). BMI is a number calculated from a person's measurements and can determine whether an individual's weight is appropriate for his or her height.
Being overweight during these ages tracks directly into adulthood with an increased percentage of total body fat. And, the earlier a child begins to add fat during these years is also an indicator of weight problems as an adult.
The same tracking occurs for girls in another critical period, adolescence. Although the weight gain might not appear for 25 years, there is a strong correlation between a high BMI at adolescence and overweight women.
These patterns of BMI have stronger effects on adult overweight than birth weight and adult lifestyle variables, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and the amount of physical activity. A high BMI at other times during childhood does not correlate closely to adult over weight, researchers found.
BMI information is now part of the national growth charts recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As part of the national panel that developed the charts, Guo believes that this information is an important public health message. "Pediatricians can now chart a child's BMI along with his/her height and weight," she explains. "This will allow for early intervention by changing the physical activity and eating habits of children."
Wright State researchers have been involved with the internationally distributed growth charts since the first ones were produced in 1977. Since then, the charts have become a standard reference for both pediatricians and parents.