High Rates of Obesity Starting at JK, U of G Study Finds

September 10, 2007 - News Release

About 25 per cent of Ontario's junior kindergartners are overweight or at risk for being overweight, and the percentage increases as children get older, a University of Guelph professor has found in the first long-term study of four- to eight-year-olds.

In addition, children who were overweight or at risk for being overweight in JK were six times more likely to be overweight four years later, said Susan Evers of Guelph's Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition. Her research was published recently in the Journal of American College Nutrition.

Evers and three colleagues took body mass index (BMI) measurements of 760 children from JK to Grade 3. To be considered overweight, the children had to have a BMI above the 95th percentile.

“You would expect that only five per cent of the children would fall into that category,” said Evers. “What we found was that, in junior kindergarten, it was close to 10 per cent and that it steadily increased up to 15 per cent by Grade 3.”

In addition, 14 per cent of JKs and 17 per cent of Grade 3ers were at risk for being overweight with a BMI from the 85th to 95th percentile.

More than half the children were measured annually four or five times over the next few years, allowing the researchers to determine how being overweight in JK affected their future weight.

“Children whose BMI was between the 85th and 95th percentile in JK had almost six times the risk of being overweight four years later compared with those below the 85th percentile,” said Evers.

The researchers didn’t find a sex difference in the prevalence of overweight children.

“Obesity is an established risk factor for both non-insulin-dependent diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults,” Evers said. “The long-term consequences of being overweight in childhood are also alarming.”

Participating children were all part of the Better Beginnings, Better Futures project, a prevention initiative in low-income communities in Ontario.

The researchers also looked at the mothers’ BMI, education level, birthplace, age and poverty status. They found that children whose mothers were overweight were more likely to be overweight in JK.

“Almost 50 per cent of the mothers were overweight themselves,” Evers said. “A positive change in the diets of parents could result in better eating habits among children.”

She admits that changing household eating habits presents a challenge for low-income families. “Interventions promoting increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and reduced intakes of foods high in fat and low in fibre won’t work unless economically disadvantaged households have access to appropriate foods.”

There are also more barriers for lower-income families to increase levels of physical activity, she said. “Lack of transportation, the cost of equipment and fees for certain sports, a lack of child care for siblings, and a shortage of well-equipped playgrounds are some of the obstacles facing low-income families.”

Prof. Susan Evers
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
519-824-4120, Ext. 53780, or severs@uoguelph.ca

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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