Boston -- By examining more than 120,000 children under age 6 in Massachusetts over 22 years, a newly published study shows that young children--especially infants--are now more likely to be overweight. This study was based at the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and appears in the July issue of Obesity.
"The obesity epidemic has spared no age group, even our youngest children," says Matthew Gillman, MD, senior author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention (of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care).
Over the course of the study, the prevalence of overweight children increased from 6.3 percent to 10 percent, a 59 percent jump (based on weight and height measures documented in medical records). The proportion of children at risk of becoming overweight grew from 11.1 percent to 14.4 percent overall, a 30 percent jump.
Infants from birth to six months of age, an age group seldom studied before, had particularly surprising results. Of all the age groups studied, these infants had the greatest jump in risk of becoming overweight, at 59 percent, and the number of overweight infants increased by 74 percent. "This information is important to public health because previous studies show that accelerated weight gain in the first few months after birth is associated with obesity later in life," says Gillman.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national reference data, children with a weight-for-height index between the national 85th and 95th percentiles for age and gender are classified as at risk for becoming overweight, and those with a weight-for-height index greater than the 95th percentile are classified as overweight. Access the CDC's growth charts at http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/.