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Tuesday January 6 6:41 PM EST

Overweight Increasing Among Preschoolers

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The number of overweight preschoolers from low-income families in the US increased by 2% - 3% between 1983 and 1995, according to an 18-state survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC's 13-year study used weight-for-height ratios to measure overweight in children under 5 years of age who participated in publicly funded health and nutrition programs in the 18 states surveyed as well as in the District of Columbia. The survey found increases in the prevalence of overweight young children from low-income families regardless of age, sex, or ethnicity (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, or Hispanic). The survey findings appear this month in the electronic pages of the journal Pediatrics.

Using the 85th percentile in weight-for-height as a cut-off point, overweight was shown to have increased among low-income preschoolers from 18.6% in 1983 to 21.6% in 1995. A slightly smaller increase was evident when the cut-off was set at the 95th percentile, going from 8.5% in 1983 to 10.2% in 1995.

"The increase in prevalence of overweight is greatest for 48- to 59-month-old children," wrote the researchers, "...(and) non-Hispanic whites had the largest absolute increase in prevalence of overweight." The researchers found that the prevalence of overweight was highest among Hispanic children. Generally, girls tended to be overweight more often than boys.

"The increase... in overweight is the result of a general upward shift of the weight-for-height distribution in the population," the researchers stated. "...The entire population of the United States is getting heavier."

Obesity in childhood has been associated with hypertension, diabetes, respiratory disease, adult obesity, and orthopedic and psychosocial disorders. Given these dangers, early preventive measures to avoid overweight in young children is essential, according to Dr. Katherine Kaufer Christoffel of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

"For example, in very young children, dietary and exercise changes can be effectively implemented by parents... to effect a substantial change in the degree of overweight in small children," wrote Christoffel in a commentary published in Pediatrics. "Clinicians can use these advantages if they make it a priority to identify excessive weight gain and address it during the preschool years." SOURCE: Pediatrics (1998;101:e12, 103-105)


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