A review of pediatric weight gain finds that overweight kindergartners are significantly more likely to develop childhood obesity later in life, underscoring the need for earlier interventions against the disease that now affects one in three kids.

Dr. Solveig A. Cunningham, an assistant professor at Rollins School of Public Health and author of the new study, said in a press release that the review comes in response to the current lack of sufficient research on the subject. "Although trends in the prevalence of obesity are well documented, there is surprisingly little known about new cases of childhood obesity," she explained. “Examining incidence may provide insight into the nature of the epidemic, the critically vulnerable ages, and the groups who are at greater risk for obesity."

To investigate the link between kindergarten weight and childhood obesity risk, the researchers analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study — a cohort put together in the late 1990s to assess a variety of health factors in young kids. Using weight classification from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the team determined that 12 percent of the kids entered kindergarten obese and 14 percent entered overweight. They found that, by 8th grade, these children were four times as likely to have developed childhood obesity.

Preventing Childhood Obesity

According to official estimates, childhood obesity now affects more than a third of U.S. children and adolescents. The disorder, which raises the risk of developing complications like cancer and diabetes later in life, typically arises from a combination of genetic factors and overeating.

The new study is the latest in a growing series of attempts to highlight the importance of early obesity prevention. In another paper from last year, researchers from Dokkyo Medical University found that children who undergo so-called adiposity rebound — or, whose body mass index (BMI) begins to rise — before 4 years of age are significantly more likely to be overweight and have unhealthy blood pressure by age 12 compared to children who reach this developmental “turning point” around age 6. Taken together, these results show an alarming risk factor of early metabolic syndrome.

Cunningham hopes that the new study will help parents as well as health officials combat the incidence of the taxing and often stigmatizing disorder. "Our findings uncovered several important points by examining incidence over time," she said. "We have evidence that certain factors established before birth and during the first five years are important. Obesity-prevention efforts focused on children who are overweight by 5 years old may be a way to target children susceptible to becoming obese later in life."