NEW YORK — For many obese adults, the die was cast by the time they were 5 years old. A study of some 7,000 children has found that a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by eighth grade. And almost every child who was very obese remained that way.
“The main message is that obesity is established very early in life, and that it basically tracks through adolescence to adulthood,” said Ruth Loos, a professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who was not involved in the study.
The results, surprising to many specialists, arose from a study that tracked children’s body weights for years, from kindergarten through eighth grade. Experts say they may reshape approaches to combating a US obesity epidemic.
The findings, to be published in The New England Journal of Medicine, do not explain why the effect occurs.
Researchers say it may be a combination of genetic predisposition to being heavy and environments that encourage overeating in those that are prone to it.
But the results do provide a possible explanation for why efforts to help children lose weight have often had disappointing results.
The steps may have aimed too broadly at all school- children, rather than starting before children enrolled in kindergarten and concentrating on those who were already fat at very young ages.