HealthDay News — Children who were overweight at a young age were more likely to become obese later in life, according to researchers.

Among a cohort of 7,738 children, those who were overweight at 5 years of age were four times more likely to become obese as teens, Solveig A. Cunningham, PhD, from Emory University in Atlanta, and colleagues reported in New England Journal of Medicine.

They examined the national incidence of obesity among elementary-school children who participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study as part of the 1998-1999 kindergarten class.

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Participants had height and weight measured seven times from 1998 to 2007. Overall, 6,807 were not obese at baseline and were followed for 50,396 person-years.

Upon entering kindergarten, 12.4% of children were obese and 14.9% were overweight (mean age, 5.6 years). In eighth grade (mean age 14.1 years), 20.8% and 17%, respectively, were obese and overweight.

The annual incidence of obesity decreased from 5.4% during kindergarten to 1.7% between fifth and eight grades, the researchers found.

Compared with normal-weight 5-year-olds, those who were overweight were four times as likely to become obese (nine-year cumulative incidence, 31.8% versus 7.9%), with rates of 91.5 and 17.2 per 1,000 person-years, respectively.

Among children who became obese between the ages of 5 and 14 years, 75% had been above the 70th percentile for BMI and nearly half had been overweight at baseline.

“Incident obesity between the ages of 5 and 14 years was more likely to have occurred at younger ages, primarily among children who had entered kindergarten overweight,” the researchers concluded.


  1. Cunningham SA et al. N Engl J Med. 2014; 370:403-411.