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Does ‘Baby Fat’ Lead to Obesity?

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American children who were overweight when entering kindergarten in 1998  were four times as likely as their normal-weight classmates to become obese by the time they entered high school, according to a new study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Emory University researchers used data from the “Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999”  to track 7,700 children who entered kindergarten 1998. About 12 percent of the children were obese and 15 percent were overweight at the average age of 5.

Fast forward to age 14, and 21 percent of the students were obese and 17 percent were overweight.

The disparity is even greater between race and class. At age 14, 17 percent and 14.5 percent of Blacks and Hispanics respectively became obese, while only 10 percent of whites and other children of other ethnicities became obese. Only 7.4 percent of children of  the top 20 percent income-earning families were classified as obese, while over double (15.5 percent) of the children of the middle-income earning families were classified as obese.

Solveig A. Cunningham Ph.D. of the Hubert Department of Global Health, Emory University in Atlanta tells Medscape News, “[This] tells us that some component of the risk of obesity may be set in motion by the age of 5 already. Kids who were born large and overweight at entry to kindergarten were at the highest risk of obesity.”

The evidence suggests that nutrition and health information may have to be directed at younger children and maybe even pregnant mothers.

One of the study authors, Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan of the Emory Global Health Institutes, tells the Guardian, “It is almost as if you can make it to kindergarten without the weight, your chances are immensely better.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about one-third of the country’s youth are either overweight or obese and 18 percent of elementary school children are obese.

The study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on twitter @ReporterandGirl or on and visit her website at

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