Parents may be inclined to overlook the few extra pounds their children may put on at a young age, but a study sponsored by the National Institute of Health says the problem is more serious than many parents might think.
The study released Tuesday indicates that children who have ever been overweight as defined by a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th percentile, are several times more likely to be overweight at age 12 than kids who have never been that heavy.
The study tells parents that a tendency toward obesity is something that should be addressed actively, and not just left alone in the hope that the child will grow out of it.
"The study took more than a thousand young people born in 1991, and examined them at seven different times during their childhoods," The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay said. "After each exam, researchers calculated body mass index, a measure of the child's weight as it relates to his or her height."
Dr. Senay said researchers found that a child's BMI can be above the 85th percentile for children nationwide just once between the ages of 2 and 4½ and the child was more than five times as likely to be overweight at age 12 as kids who had never been overweight.
The results, Dr. Senay said, tell parents that they should not count on their children eventually shedding their baby fat, especially in the United States where one young person in six is classified as overweight.
"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says the percentage of overweight adolescents in America has jumped by more than 50 percent in just a decade," Dr. Senay said.
Overweight children are more susceptible to health problems later in life, Dr. Senay said. She said that studies have shown that obese adolescents are at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.
"The earlier in life a person's weight is brought under control, the better chance that person has of minimizing those health risks," she said.
Children who are a few pounds above average, but not really overweight usually have BMIs between the 50th and 75th percentile for their age groups, Dr. Senay said.
"The NIH says they don't need an active weight reduction program, but they should be watched, in case their weight starts to veer higher," Dr. Senay said.
Dr. Senay said that as parents realize their children are gaining too much weight, they should consult with a pediatrician. But at the same time, parents have to be careful not to apply too much pressure to lose weight.
"You can do a lot of good by making sure that places where your child spends his time promote good health," Dr. Senay said. "See what foods they serve at day care, or at school. See how much exercise children get in those places. Whether phys ed may involve more standing around than real activity. In the right environment, your child can lose weight without feeling pressured. And, of course, you should serve healthy meals and get active with your kids when they're at home. That may improve both your child's health and yours."