The Most Important Year for Kids and Weight

Lambeth Hochwald, Writer/Editor
Yahoo Parenting

Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

A groundbreaking new study reports that most fifth graders who were overweight or obese at age 10 remained so by the time they started 10th grade — an important finding, researchers say, as some parents disregard the warning signs at that age. 

“We wanted to look at this age group because some parents have the impression that the time to start to be alert about obesity is during adolescence,” lead study author Dr. Mark A. Schuster, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, tells Yahoo Parenting. “They write off weight gain to ‘baby fat’ or they’ll wait until after puberty to see if their child is more on the obese end.”

STORY: ‘Dear Santa’ Sign Stirs Controversy

In the study, slated to appear in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics and published online Monday, researchers randomly selected nearly 4,000 fifth graders in public schools in three metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, Houston and Birmingham, Alabama. Each child, along with a parent, was measured for height and weight using standard gender-specific Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts. The students were then contacted again five years later to gather additional data on their body mass index and daily habits. Turns out, 83 percent of the kids in fifth grade who were obese remained obese by the 10th grade.

“We knew from previous studies that obesity in children is correlated with their likelihood of being obese when they got older,” Schuster says. “But the ways in which weight patterns changed between fifth and 10th grades hasn’t been studied up until now.”

PICTURES: 10 Sneaky Sugar Sources

So what’s a parent to do? Model healthy eating and encourage your kids to exercise and have less screen time, Schuster says — especially since the study showed that overweight fifth graders had a 21 percent chance of being obese in 10th grade if they held a negative body image, had an obese parent, or watched 30 hours of TV per week. 

“It’s hard for your kids to eat healthfully if you’re eating chips, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, and serving fried food for dinner,” he notes. “The entire household needs to have a healthy approach to eating and exercising.” And he advises getting on board with a healthier lifestyle as soon as possible, especially if your kids are young.

“Not a lot of children become newly obese in adolescence,” Schuster says. “We can’t depend on the idea that a child will ‘grow out of it’ as he or she gets older.”