News Release

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Contact: Greg Raver-Lampman (757) 668-7554 Greg.Lampman@chkd.org

Two Years Old - A Childhood Obesity Tipping Point?

NORFOLK, Va. –- Over the last decade, childhood obesity has grown into an epidemic, reflected in soaring rates of type 2 diabetes and recommendations that pediatricians check toddlers for elevated cholesterol.

What hasn’t been as clear is how early to intervene. A study presented at a pediatric research program on Friday suggested obesity prevention efforts should begin as early as age two, when children reach a “tipping point” in a progression that leads to obesity later in life.

“This study suggests that doctors may want to start reviewing the diet of children during early well-child visits,” said John W. Harrington, M.D., a pediatrician at Virginia’s Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD). “By the time they reach eight years old, they’re already far into the overweight category, making treatment more difficult.”

The study examined records of 111 obese children from a suburban pediatric practice. All of the children had their height and weight measured at least five times during pediatric visits. The average age was 12.

Children whose body mass index exceeded that of 85 percent of the general population were classified as overweight. Researchers charted the recorded body mass index of the children from infancy through adolescence. They found that the obese children had started gaining weight in infancy at an average rate of .08 excess BMI units per month. On average, this progression began when the children were three months old.

Over half the children became overweight at or before two years old, 90 percent before reaching their fifth birthday. Vu Nguyen, a second year student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, CHKD’s academic partner, said the results surprised him. “I didn’t think that that obesity would start that early,” said Nguyen, who presented the results Friday at a pediatric research scholars program.

Nguyen conducted the study with Harrington and Lawrence Pasquinelli, M.D., a pediatrician with Tidewater Children’s Associates in Virginia Beach, Va.

More research is needed to determine the causes of early obesity including “information on family history and the dietary and exercise habits in infancy,” said Harrington, an EVMS associate professor. “We may then have to look prospectively to see what interventions work in reversing this trend.”

Click to view the presentation.

Click here to download a healthy lifestyle handout for children and families.

Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters is the only freestanding pediatric hospital in Virginia and serves the medical and surgical needs of children throughout greater Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore of Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Founded in 1961, the not-for-profit hospital provides care to more than 160,000 children each year as inpatients and outpatients, addressing routine and complex illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions.