A Formula For Making Fat Preschoolers

Obesity – especially childhood obesity – is a hot topic in America. For many parents, it is a horrifying specter haunting their children as they grow. While many dietary plans may help them grow healthy, lean and strong, there’s at least one surefire way to make sure they become obese. The good folks at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine have illustrated it for us.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that almost 25 percent of America’s children between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight or obese. These kids are at risk for any number of physical, metabolic and psycho-social problems as they grow into childhood, including type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and depression, to name a few.

According to new research from a team led by Dartmouth University scientists, how much fast food pre-schoolers eat is linked to how likely it is they will become overweight or obese as they grow. The relatively unsurprising findings were published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.

“We now know from our studies and others, that kids who start on the path of extra weight gain during this really important time frame tend to carry it forward into adolescence and adulthood, and this sets them up for major health consequences as they get older,” says first author Jennifer Emond, PhD, MS, an assistant professor of biomedical data science and of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

Based on earlier research, we know that fast food is a part of a normal diet plan for a lot of children. About one-third of American kids eat fast food on a daily basis. Much of this research has indicated a connection between this consumption and kids becoming overweight or obese. What’s been lacking is a clear understanding of whether fast food consumption independently contributes to excess weight gain in young children.

So the intrepid scientists at Dartmouth came up with a way to figure that out. They followed more than 500 pre-school kids (aged 3 to 5) and their families around for a year (but not in a creepy, stalker way.) The families all lived in southern New Hampshire. The kids height and weight was taken at the start and the conclusion of the study.

The parents checked in with their children’s fast food intake and frequency. 11 chain restaurants were included in their choices. The reports were made via online surveys completed by the parents every 2 months.

At the start of the study, about 18 percent of the children were overweight, with 10 percent of them being obese. During the course of the tracking period, an additional 8 percent became overweight, with a similar number moving from overweight to obese.

“To our knowledge, ours is the first study to follow a cohort over time and to show that fast food, by itself, uniquely contributes to weight gain,” explains Emond. “Unlike with past research, we were able to adjust for other factors — such as exercise and screen time — that could possibly explain away this relationship.

“Findings from this research,” says Emond, “should be used to inform guidelines and policies that can reduce fast-food marketing exposure to children and help support parents who may be struggling to adopt healthier eating behaviors for their kids.”

Fast food can seem like a convenient way to get the kids fed. Unfortunately, it is also a convenient way to get them fat and unhealthy. With all the other challenges awaiting our children in this world, I’m pretty sure they can live without diabetes, metabolic diseases, heart disease, depression and anxiety, too. Skip the drive through and give them something real, whole and good for them!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Material Source – The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Journal Reference – Jennifer A. Emond, Meghan R. Longacre, Linda J. Titus, Kristy Hendricks, Keith M. Drake, Jennifer E. Carroll, Lauren P. Cleveland, Madeline A. Dalton. Fast food intake and excess weight gain over a 1‐year period among preschool‐age children. Pediatric Obesity, 2020; DOI: 10.1111/ijpo.12602

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