Health problems caused by childhood obesity may begin as early as age 3 with the onset of risky cholesterol and artery inflammation levels that often portend heart disease, diabetes and other health problems in young adulthood.
The warnings are from a nationwide study of children 3 to 6 years old by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"People believe their children will outgrow their baby fat and that a chubby 2-year-old is healthy; it isn't true," said Sarah Messiah, a UM research assistant professor and lead author of the study.
"These children are experiencing a childhood at the edge of disease, potentially setting them up for chronic problems," she said.
The survey sharply lowers the age at which problems have been detected; most previous studies involved children 8 and older, she said.
Messiah urged parents to watch their child's weight even in preschool years. And she urged pediatricians to measure children's waist size and body mass at least by age 3, and preferably earlier.
Messiah's study was presented Wednesday at a conference of the American Heart Association in Palm Harbor near Tampa.
"This is important," said Dr. Stephen Daniels, chairman of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital at the University of Colorado in Denver, who has read the study but was not involved in it. "We've seen the severity of obesity going up in children for 10 or 15 years. This study shows that it's having an immediate effect on the health of those children."
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