Science

Weigh children yearly from age of two to prevent obesity, study suggests

Researchers say early and regular measuring could improve the effectiveness of weight checks.

Children should be weighed annually from the age of two to help prevent obesity, researchers have said.

The authors of a new study, published in journal Preventive Medicine Reports, suggest adult body mass index (BMI) can start to be predicted in some children when they are just a few years old.

A significant number of UK children may also be a healthy weight or underweight when they start primary school but go on to develop obesity, the authors said.

In England, the National Child Measurement Programme only records the weight of those aged four or five years old and those aged 10 or 11.

This means some groups of children may slip through the net and not benefit from early intervention, according to researchers from the University of Manchester and University of Oxford.

Children are current weighed when they start primary school as part of a national programme (Ian West/ PA)
Children are current weighed when they start primary school as part of a national programme (Ian West/PA)

“The evidence suggests that children should be weighed and measured every year from at least the age of two,” Dr Heather Robinson said.

“We can tell different patterns of child growth apart from as early as two to five years, but only if we measure children regularly. So it’s important to start measuring children as early in life as possible, and to continue to do so throughout childhood.

“This way, we can give parents and health professionals the information they need to support children and families.”

The study used data on more than 750,000 children worldwide, taken from 54 studies, to find out typical patterns of growth.

Since 2000, “late increasing children” have made up between 5% and 19% of children in the UK, USA and Australia, the authors said.

This refers to those who are underweight or normal weight when aged between three and five years old, but who go on to develop obesity.

The researchers suggest early and regular measuring would improve the effectiveness of weight checks.

Dr Robinson said: “Our work reiterates that not only are a minority of children identified as obese when they are following healthy growth pathways, but a group of children who become obese later have BMIs in the normal range at four to five years, so are missed.”

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said “millions of children have suffered from inaction” because the UK does not measure children regularly.

“The National Child Measurement Programme should be extended to cover every year of a child’s growing years to identify the first signs of excess weight developing, and programmes to ensure they are not left to get fatter put in place,” he said.

“We measure animals annually in our zoos to monitor their health and well-being but we fail to do the same for our children.”

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