Feature: Obesity 'should be tackled through the years from baby to adulthood'

15 November 2011

The risk of obesity is prevalent from a young age and it is possible to track, through different methods, the likelihood of a person becoming overweight in adulthood. Although the ownership of responsibility changes as a person ages as to what they eat and how much physical activity they do, what really lies at the core of tackling obesity through generations?

Beginning at babyhood, many scientists and psychologists would argue that the burden of diet control lies directly with the infant's parents or carers and that an early education of how to lead a healthy lifestyle and teaching an enjoyment of nutritious food is an important factor of bringing up a child.

Early lessons of a healthy lifestyle encourage children, even at a very young age, to continue to be aware of the risks of obesity and taking this knowledge into adulthood.

In a large study by researchers at the Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, a chart was used to predict obesity in children aged between five and ten years old.

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study looked at weight-for-length models in 44,000 babies and found that those who rose two or more major percentiles in weight-for-length on their growth charts at any time before the age of two doubled their odds of obesity at five years old and were nearly twice as likely to be obese at age ten.

The weight-for-length percentile shows how a baby's weight compares to that of other babies of the same length.

Published in the November Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the research also found that children who had a higher percentage rating in the test were more likely to carry on gaining weight.

A lack of motivation is often the driving force behind rapid weight gain when children reach their teenage years, but for overweight teens a lack of health education may be what is adding to a growing obesity epidemic, according to a new study of Philadelphia high school students.

Statistics generated in the research showed that 76 per cent of obese teens reported that they are trying to lose weight but are not doing it in a healthy and nutritious way, suggesting that they have been ill-informed about what is healthy and what is not.

Unhealthy habits such as skipping meals, smoking and drinking a lot of fizzy drinks were all factors found by the US researchers to be fundamental problems preventing the desired weight loss. The scientists concluded that education was the key factor missing and said that the children needed more knowledge to manage their diet.

The classic approach of eating less and moving more is a popular consideration for those trying to lose weight but Michigan State University (MSU) scientists said that increased levels of fibre in fruit and vegetables is also key.

Joseph Carlson of MSU's division of sports and cardiovascular nutrition, a registered dietician and associate professor at the university, said: "What we found is that as fibre intake increases, the risk for metabolic syndrome decreases. High-fibre, nutrient-dense foods are packed with heart healthy vitamins, minerals and chemicals that can positively affect many cardiovascular risk factors.

"It may be better to focus on including these foods than to focus, as is commonly done, on excluding foods high in saturated fat."

The teen diet research published in Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that in order to reduce metabolic syndrome - which has a collection of risk factors including high blood pressure and a large waistline - it is important to have a diet that includes fibre-rich, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods instead of solely focussing on restricting the intake of foods with high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat.

Channelling advice from healthcare experts and maintaining a healthy diet from an early age could help to reduce the amount of adults who are obese, some of whom resort to cosmetic procedures to gain the desired weight loss.

Currently predictions show that 50 per cent of people in the UK will be obese by 2030. Data also suggested that by 2050, 60 per cent of men, 50 per cent of women and 25 per cent of children will be obese - a set of figures that dieticians and physicians alike would like to tackle from an early age.

Posted by Edward Bartel

Taveras, Elsie, et al., "Crossing Growth Percentiles in Infancy and Risk of Obesity in Childhood" Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, November 2011.

Carlson, Jospeh, et al., "Dietary Fiber and Nutrient Density Are Inversely Associated with the Metabolic Syndrome in US Adolescents", Journal of the American Dietetic Association, November 2011

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