January 30th, 2014
10:49 AM ET

Your kindergartner‎'s weight matters

The baby fat lingering around your 5-year-old's face (and tummy and thighs) may be an indicator of his or her weight for many years to come, a new study suggests. Children who enter kindergarten overweight are four times more likely than their normal weight peers to become obese by age 14, researchers say.

Though recent studies have shown signs of progress in the fight against childhood obesity, an estimated one out of every eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers are higher in African-American and Hispanic populations, at one in five and one in six, respectively.

The new study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests a big part of a child's obesity risk is already established by age 5. Interventions to combat childhood obesity may need to focus on those children who are overweight early in life, the study authors say.

Some background

Body mass index for children is calculated a bit differently than it is for adults. While kids' height and weight are still used, whether they are "normal," "overweight" or "obese" is determined by a percentile. Most parents are familiar with percentiles, as they are commonly used to chart children's growth in the United States.

A healthy weight child falls between the 5th and the 85th percentiles. An overweight child is the 85th to 95th percentile; an obese child is above the 95th percentile.

The study

Researchers analyzed data from more than 7,700 children who started kindergarten in 1998. The children's height and weight were measured seven times between that year and the time they turned 14 in 2007.

At the start of the study, 12.4% of the children were obese, and another 14.9% were overweight.

The researchers then determined the overall obesity incidence each year, and broke down the obesity rates by sex, socioeconomic status, race or ethnic group, birth weight and kindergarten weight.

The results

By the eighth grade, 20.8% of the children in the study were obese and 17% were overweight.

Half of the children who were obese at 14 had been a part of the 14.9% who were overweight as kindergarteners; 75% had been in the 70th BMI percentile or above.

Not your mama's gym class: PE teachers step up to fight obesity

The greatest increase in obesity rates was seen between first and third grades when the incidence jumped from 13% to 18.6%.

Children in the wealthiest families were the least likely to be overweight. Children who were born heavier i.e., more than 8.8 pounds had a higher risk of being obese at every age.


Doctors and teachers can't fight childhood obesity without help, Steven Gortmaker and Elsie Taveras wrote in an accompanying editorial in the journal. Improving a child's diet and increasing physical activity levels at home can reduce early weight gain and the risk of obesity.

How do you keep your children active? Share your tips with other parents and experts during a live Twitter chat at 1 p.m. ET Friday, hosted by @CNNHealth and celebrity trainer David Kirsch. Use the hashtag #FitFamilies to join in.

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. wrm

    Wow, how much did it cost to determine that the most probable future state absent any other information is one that is that is close to the current state?

    Brilliant deductions. Absolutely positively brilliant. I am so shocked and surprised at this.

    January 30, 2014 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. areopagan

    Ranking them as a percentile is just stupid. They state that 12.4% of the children were obese at the beginning of the study. By definition, it is impossible to have 12.4% of a group fall into the 95th percentile or above.

    January 30, 2014 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cali girl

      Agreed. My own son is very slender, so that in theory skews the entire chart, and moves normal weight kids into a higher percentage for body weight.

      January 30, 2014 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
    • AJ

      The percentile charts were made in the 70s and 80s when kids actually ran around outside. You get weird stuff like way more than 5% of kids in the 95th percentile becuase so much more of them are obese and overweight. The CDC will not adjust the charts to correct the percentile discrepancies because so much obesity is not normal.

      January 31, 2014 at 08:34 | Report abuse |
    • ts

      Two different distributions – the population at large and the population in the study

      February 1, 2014 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
  3. just me

    Unfortunatly, the people who perform the study don't want to be critizied for labeling a persons kid as too big or too small. So they use a percentile to represent the data that lets you see an idea of where your child is with out specifically telliing you were you child is. The first part is, they are often generalizing and therefore get it wrong for people who don't fit into their ideal profile. For example, my 9 year old daughter is 49 inches tall and ways 43 lbs. According to the schools she is short, and under weight for her age. But as our doctor will tell you she is quite average for her age considering her cultural back ground. you see her Mom is 5'2 or 62 inches tall and 96 lbs. My daughter is 2 inches talled and 7 lbs heavier than my wife was at her age. And they both eat full meals. My wifes favorite 2 meals are pork chops with mashed potatoes and green beans, and baked chicken with bacon and chesse biscuits and cabbage. My daughters favorite food is bacon... period. Although she will out eat her 10 year old brother when it comes to macaroni and cheese, green beans, pork and beans and ribs. When it comes to ribs, she will give me a run for my money.

    My god-son is the same age, he is 37 days younger than my daughter and at 9 he is 57 inches tall and wieghs 104 lbs. His school said he was obese by there charts. But if you saw him you would never think that. His dad, my friend is 6,3 and has several brothers that are taller than him. My god son is tall for his age by comarison, but he is one inch shorter, and 3 lbs lighter than his dad was at his age. My God-son looks like he is a healthy 11 year old based on his size, but he is only slightly above average based on is cultural backround. He is a not thin, but he is no where near fat, in fact he plays foot ball and is a little musclular for his age.

    Activity and good diet are important to good health at any age. But classifiing people based on averages almost always means getting it wrong for the people on the far end sof the scale. In sixth grade I was 11 years old at 41 lbs and 47 inches tall. I was NEVER starved, never went hungry nor had any medical issues. I ate well, had plenty of energy, and played with my brothers, and friends. I'm 5'8 or 68 inches tall and at 186 lbs, I could stand to lose a few pounds, but I still eat well, and can probally lose 5 to 10 lbs with more exercise, as I know I don't do enough.

    Don't judge others based on averages, use you own eyes and remember that our bodies are on their own scheadule. And if a change is needed, play, sports, excercise, or other active should always be the FIRST option, not the last.

    January 30, 2014 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Vet292

    Xbox and the Internet are killing our children.
    Exercise, and playing outside instead of spending hours in front of a flat screen is the answer.

    January 30, 2014 at 20:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tony

      You cannot out exercise a bad diet. You can lose 400-600 calories with about 1-2 hours worth of exercise and get it right back plus more in 7 minutes with a combo meal at McDonalds. Leaving you in a caloric surplus.

      January 31, 2014 at 13:11 | Report abuse |
  5. Elaine

    "A healthy weight child falls between the 5th and the 85th percentiles. An overweight child is the 85th to 95th percentile; an obese child is above the 95th percentile."

    that's not actually true. If the child is 95th percentile or greater on the height curve you would expect him/her to be higher on the weight curve also. Unless your child is very thin...

    January 31, 2014 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. MysteriaKiito

    Ridiculous. I was almost too skinny at age 5 but I'm overweight now and still struggling to lose it. I'm eating right and exercising as much as I can with 3 kids to take care of but stuck at 180. I've also known people who were fat at that age but are average now. Let me guess, they are using the BMI chart. Outdated and worthless.

    January 31, 2014 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. LCC

    Doctors and teachers need help? Obesity is caused by diet and it is up to the parents to guide food choice. Physical activity will do nothing.

    The problem with ANYONE losing weight is that generally people are given the wrong information on how to lose weight and keep it off (and how they gained it to begin with).

    January 31, 2014 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Enough is Enough

    My high school aged son came home with a report from the school saying that his BMI indicated that he was overweight. He was a football player and ran track (sprinter). We showed the letter to his doctor who took one look at him and said – he's an athlete – he is far from overweight. She told us that these types of generic conclusions are a farce – you have to look at the child and use some common sense. It seems that commons sense is lacking in todays society.

    February 1, 2014 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Arturo Féliz-Camilo

    Reblogged this on Mr. Feliz's Blog (Teacher Arturo).

    February 2, 2014 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Chercher

    The writer of this article has scewed the percentage argument. The height percentage is factored in with the weight percentage. A child in the 95% for weight who is also in the 95% for height is NOT overweight. The problem comes when the weight percentage is much higher than the height percentage.

    February 2, 2014 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Taylor Walsh

    The tone of many reports like this is always discouraging. The writers conclude that the study's message is this:

    "Improving a child's diet and increasing physical activity levels
    at home can reduce early weight gain and the risk of obesity.

    The word "can" should clearly be replaced by "...is the only conceivable way to..."

    Beyond avoiding weight gain, for kids in many neighborhoods, nutrition and exercise provide a minimum basis for developing the internal wherewithal to cope with the stress and anxiety that permeates their lives. Which leads to overeating, which leads to.... well, you know.

    And the notion that PE teachers are "stepping up" to deal with obesity: they have been watching this unfold for 30 years. What will they do differently, at a time when you can't get 90 minutes of PE into a school week?

    Without a coherent K-12 curriculum that inculcates personal health "mastery" (for lack of a better word) that blends exercise, nutrition, stews management, and environmental experience in a developmentally appropriate way, the solutions will continue to be hit-and-mostly-miss, irrespective of how the percentages are defined in studies like this one.

    February 3, 2014 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Captain Wolff

    Just a few more minutes, then the idiots at HAES will find this article and declare war on CNN.

    February 3, 2014 at 21:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kelli @ healthierbytheweek

    As a physician getting parents to listen to me about their 5 year old being overweight is almost unheard of. Most parents will say "they are just a kid, they shouldn't have to worry about their weight at this age." I try to explain that it is a huge problem, even at their age. We know obese children are more likely to be obese adults. It's hard on their body. Some 10 year olds have higher cholesterol than 40 year olds. Parents need to get on board and we as doctors need to find ways to help them understand the risks better.

    February 5, 2014 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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