Many UK kids that are a healthy weight, or even underweight, when they start primary school could still go on to become obese, according to researchers. But some experts have warned that it’s a ‘sensitive topic’ that should be approached with caution, as children’s self-esteem could suffer.
The new study, published in journal Preventive Medicine Reports, found that adult body mass index (BMI) can start to be predicted in some children who are just a few years old.
Currently, the National Child Measurement Programme, only records the weight of children aged four, five, 10 and 11. This gap in age testing means that some groups of children could slip through the net and not benefit from intervention early in their youth, said researchers from the University of Manchester and University of Oxford. Dr Heather Robinson said: ‘The evidence suggests that children should be weighed and measured every year from at least the age of two. ‘We can tell different patterns of child growth apart from as early as two to five years, but only if we measure children regularly. ‘So it’s important to start measuring children as early in life as possible, and to continue to do so throughout childhood. ‘This way, we can give parents and health professionals the information they need to support children and families.’
The study used data from more than 750,000 children worldwide, taken from 54 studies, to find out typical patterns of growth. Since 2000, ‘late increasing children’ have made up between 5% and 19% of children in the UK, USA and Australia, the authors said. This refers to those who are underweight or normal weight when aged between three and five but later go on to develop obesity. Following their findings, the researchers suggest early and regular measuring would improve the effectiveness of weight checks. But some experts have warned that children could be emotionally damaged if they are told from a young age that they are overweight. Shamir Patel, pharmacist and founder of Chemist 4 U, told Metro.co.uk that while intermittently weighing young children could ‘flag up any warning signs’ and tackle the problem quickly, it should be dealt with carefully. The pharmacist said: ‘Weighing a child can be an extremely sensitive topic and should be approached with caution.
‘It’s well known that children can suffer from damages to their self-confidence at a young age, and this damage can be both longstanding and detrimental. ‘Therefore, one of the biggest points I would raise is that if a child is weighed, their weight should not be given as feedback to them or commented on (unless they insist) and should rather be addressed privately with parents if there are any risks of obesity.’ Shamir added that more emphasis should be placed on encouraging schools and parents to work together to keep kids at a healthy weight, by promoting healthier meal options at school and making sure exercise plays a bigger part in the curriculum. ‘It should be less of a report that “your child could be overweight” and more “your child may become overweight, but here’s how we can solve that”.’ Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said ‘millions of children have suffered from inaction’ because the UK does not measure children regularly.
Source – Preventive Medicine Reports