More than half a million 4-year-olds are obese, and the numbers are even more startling among children of color, according to a government study published this month in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The findings mean that nearly 1 in 5 American 4-year-olds are obese. And the rate for Native American children is nearly double that of white children.
The differences by race at such an early age surprised researchers.
The troubling findings also show that young children are becoming obese before they enroll in school, which is when they are more likely to eat unhealthful meals and vending-machine snacks and soda.
The study, conducted by the National Center on Educational Statistics, analyzed height and weight data in 2005 for 8,550 preschoolers born in 2001. It showed 31 percent of Native American children were obese, compared with 22 percent of Hispanics, 21 percent of blacks, 16 percent of whites, and 13 percent of Asian children.
This study did not explore reasons for the racial disparity. But other research has shown that minorities are at a higher risk of obesity because they generally live in poor households, eat diets high in fat and calories, and have less-educated parents.
The new study is believed to be the first analysis of national obesity rates in preschool kids in the nation's five major ethnic or racial groups. It gives new meaning to the term baby fat.
Sarah Anderson, an Ohio State public health researcher, conducted the study with Temple University's Dr. Robert Whitaker. Obesity has long been a problem among adult Americans, but that didn't make the statistics on children any easier to digest.
A growing number of children of all ages are becoming obese, although the rate has leveled off in recent years. A study last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that 32 percent of schoolchildren are overweight or obese.
Experts blame junk food, fast food, and sedentary lifestyles that include hours spent playing video games or watching TV. Sadly, many youngsters are simply following in the footsteps of their obese parents.
Without drastic measures, obese children will become chubby teenagers who are more likely to develop serious health problems as they grow older, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
All parents, regardless of race, should be alarmed by this trend and take immediate action to put their children on a healthier track. That means providing kids with more nutritious meal choices, limiting junk food, and encouraging them to exercise more than their fingers punching a computer game's keypad.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer - http://tinyurl.com/dk33pj