A lifelong weight problem often starts in childhood, a new study shows.

September 20, 2006 -- Many parents believe that their kids will outgrow childhood chubbiness. But a new study, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, reveals that a teen's weight problem can be directly tied to his weight as a toddler.

The study tracked the BMIs (body mass indexes) of 1,000 children, ages 2 to 12, in 10 cities across the United States. Those children who had BMIs in the top 15 percent for their age group at any point -- even as young as 2 years old -- were far more likely to remain in the top 15 percent through age 12. In fact, 60 percent of children who were deemed overweight at preschool age and 80 percent of children who were overweight during their elementary school years were still overweight at age 12. Similarly, those in a healthy BMI range tended to remain there too. The study results were equivalent for boys and girls.

"The more [number of years] a child was overweight, the greater the odds of being overweight at age 12 years relative to a child who was never overweight," writes Philip Nader, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues in the study.

The prevalence of obesity -- both in kids and adults -- has nearly tripled since the 1970s and has become a serious public health concern. The results of this study simply reinforce the importance of keeping a child's weight under control, regardless of age.

BMI is calculated based on a child's weight and how it relates to her height. If your child's BMI is currently in the 85th percentile for her age (your pediatrician should keep you updated about BMI percentiles at wellness visits), then it's especially important that you start implementing changes now.

The key to keeping your child's weight in a healthy range, or improving her BMI, lies in healthy eating and an active lifestyle. "Parents should demand that the environment that their child is exposed to include healthy foods; less exposure to TV and sedentary activities; and safe, active places for physical activity, including neighborhood parks and quality physical education in schools," Nader says.

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