1 in 5 children in the U.S. enter school overweight or obese, researchers find

September 4, 2017 by Zen Vuong, University of Southern California
Children who develop obesity at a young age are likely to continue to have problems as adults, experts say. Credit: Yasmin Davis

About 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, according to federal health statistics. That's a sobering statistic for parents to ponder as September marks National Childhood Obesity Month.

"One in five children in the U.S. enter school overweight or obese. Many kindergarteners with normal end up gaining too much weight during elementary school," said Ashlesha Datar, a senior economist and director of the Program for Children and Families at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

"It turns out during early is not just a passing phenomenon that disappears once growth spurts occur. Excess weight in childhood substantially increases the risk of remaining obese into adolescence and adulthood. Because obesity is linked with serious health consequences, addressing excess weight gain in early childhood should be a top priority.

The emphasis of most early childhood programs is on cognitive and socio-emotional readiness, she noted.

"Childhood obesity may decrease if entering school 'ready to learn' included the formation of good habits that promote healthy body weight. Reinforcing healthy behaviors in can create wholesome habits as children transition through adolescence and adulthood," Datar said.

Americans devour sugar

Americans consume an average of 22 teaspoons of sweeteners every day, which is over twice the recommended limits set by the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization.

"Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The abundance of high-sugar foods and food cues in our environment (such as the sight or smell of chocolate chip cookies) can prime us to eat beyond our energy needs by stimulating brain pathways that control reward, attention and motivation," said Kathleen Page, an assistant professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

"Studies in animals suggest that diets high in sugar affect these brain pathways and can induce sugar craving-like behaviors. Understanding how sugar sweeteners affect brain pathways and eating behavior in people is critical to our efforts to reduce the rising rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease."

Memory and cognition

"Emerging findings reveal that excessive consumption of sugar and high-fat foods during childhood can have detrimental effects on memory and cognition," said Scott Kanoski, an assistant professor of human and evolutionary biology and neurobiology at USC Dornsife.

For example, he explained, the hippocampus, a brain region that helps people remember autobiographical events and navigation routes, appears to be particularly vulnerable to early life consumption of unhealthy food and drink.

Obesity does not exist on an island

Obesity is not an individual problem, according to Kayla de la Haye, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine.

"Our social networks influence what we eat, if we are active and, ultimately, how we manage our weight. The 'norms' in our day-to-day social networks, consciously and unconsciously, foster our views about what degree of overweight is healthy and normal.

"We have to tackle prevention collectively in families, peer groups and organizations. We have to create social networks that support healthy eating, activity and weight."

Explore further: Mothers' excess pregnancy weight gain, elevated blood sugar 'imprint' obesity in children

Related Stories

Mothers' excess pregnancy weight gain, elevated blood sugar 'imprint' obesity in children

May 6, 2016
Children whose mothers gain excess weight or have elevated blood sugar during their pregnancies are more likely to become overweight or obese during their first decade of life, according to a new Kaiser Permanente study published ...

Study of schoolchildren's soft drink consumption patterns suggests taxing sugar sweetened soft drinks could help

May 18, 2017
A study of the soft drink consumption patterns of more than 1000 schoolchildren presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal (17-20 May) shows that overweight and obese children tend to drink more ...

Obese preschoolers have 60 percent higher healthcare costs than healthy weight children

July 6, 2016
Obese children aged two to five years old are 2-3 times more likely to be admitted to hospital and have 60 per cent higher healthcare costs than healthy weight children, a study by the University of Sydney's School of Public ...

Drinking diet beverages during pregnancy linked to child obesity, study suggests

June 6, 2017
Children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day during pregnancy were more likely to be overweight or obese at age 7, compared to children born to women who ...

Television viewing a predictor of weight change in children over time

May 24, 2017
Researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University observed little effect of health behaviors, including eating habits, television viewing, and physical activity, on change in weight among children.

Overweight children are excluded from friendships, study finds

June 7, 2017
Overweight children have more unreciprocated friendships and frenemies than their thinner counterparts, a Keck School of Medicine of USC study finds.

Recommended for you

PFASs, chemicals commonly found in environment, may interfere with body weight regulation

February 13, 2018
A class of chemicals used in many industrial and consumer products was linked with greater weight gain after dieting, particularly among women, according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The chemicals—perfluoroalkyl ...

Study shows benefits of exercise can outweigh health effects of severe obesity

February 12, 2018
Can you be fit and healthy even if you're overweight? That's the question researchers at York University's Faculty of Health set out to answer in a new study that shows physical activity may be equally and perhaps even more ...

Obesity drives US health care costs up by 29 percent, varies by state

February 7, 2018
The prevalence of obesity has risen dramatically in the U.S., but there has been little information about the economic impact of this trend for individual states.

Why diets backfire: A year or more after weight loss, the desire to eat grows stronger

February 2, 2018
Losing weight is, for most people, the easy part. The bigger challenge is trying to keep it off for more than a year.

Scientists identify weight loss ripple effect

February 1, 2018
People who make an effort to lose weight aren't just helping themselves, they may be helping others too.

To improve self-control, call weight loss what it is: Difficult

January 29, 2018
To reach your New Year's fitness goals, a bit of reverse psychology might be in order. Telling people that weight loss is extremely challenging—rather than imparting a "You can do it!" mantra—motivated them to shed more ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.