Certain aspects of a child’s early development have long been thought by experts to influence weight in later life. Now researchers have highlighted key influences that can lead to obesity.
The study involved 8,234 British youngsters aged seven, plus a further sample of 909 children who were taking part in a large general U.K. survey. Researchers from Scotland’s University of Glasgow studied the children’s health history and everyday habits, as well as measuring their BMI, or body mass index, which is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters.
The team concluded that the following eight factors were associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity at the age of seven:
- Birth weight
- Obesity in one or both parents
- More than eight hours spent watching TV a week at the age of three
- A short amount of sleep – less than 10.5 hours a night at the age of three
- Size in early life – measured at 8 and 18 months
- Rapid weight gain in the first year of life
- Rapid catch-up growth between birth and 2 years of age
- Early development of body fatness in pre-school years – before the age at which body fat should be increasing at the age of 5-6.
Researchers said the ways in which these factors might increase obesity risk were complex. Parent obesity, for example, may influence a child’s weight through genetics. Or weight gain in children could also be linked to living in the same environment and eating the same types of food as their parents.
“Duration of night-time sleep,” said the survey, “may alter later risk of obesity through growth hormone secretion, or because sleep reduces the child’s exposure to factors in the environment that promote obesity, such as food intake in the evening. Children who were more physically active may sleep longer at night and this might explain the link between duration of sleep and being overweight. Television viewing could be linked to obesity because it is an activity which does not use up much energy and can also mean youngsters eat more while they are watching their favorite programs.”
Since the 1970s, the number of overweight kids and adolescents in the United States has more than doubled. Today, 10% of 2-5 year olds and more than 15% of young people 6-19 are overweight. If you combine the number who are overweight with the percentage of those who are at risk of becoming overweight, one in three American young people is affected.
Regular exercise and a balanced, nutritious diet are crucial ways to help reverse Insulin Resistance, an imbalance of glucose and insulin levels in the bloodstream, which, if left unchecked, can lead to weight gain and obesity. Excess weight can, in turn, result in the onset of a number of dangerous conditions, including the cluster of cardiovascular disorders called Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X and the hormonal imbalance known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a leading cause of female infertility.