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Childhood obesity is set before the age of five, according to new research.
Compared to children in the 1980s, today's youngsters are fatter and the bulk of their excess weight gain happens before school age. Shockingly, one in four children aged four to five in England are overweight
The report suggests that initiatives to prevent childhood obesity should be started before school.
At birth, the children in the study were of similar weight to babies 25 years ago, but had gained more fat by puberty compared with children of the same age in the 1980s. Before an obese girl reaches school age she will have already gained 90% of her excess weight, and boys will have gained 70% of their excess weight.
Lead researcher Professor Terry Wilkin, of the Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth, said: "When they reach the age of five the die seems to be cast, at least until the age of puberty. What is causing it is very difficult to know." He said there must be a factor now that was not there 25 years ago which is making today's children obese. And, given the young age, this is likely to be in a child's home rather than school environment and linked to upbringing rather than schooling.
Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, said it was no exaggeration to describe soaring rates of obesity as an "impending crisis".
He said: "We need to get in early and build the foundations to healthy living from a very early stage. It is never too late. Obesity is one of the few serious medical problems that can be reversed very, very quickly." Sir Liam said eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day was one of the most important elements of a healthy diet.
The EarlyBird Diabetes study of 233 children from birth to puberty is being published in the journal Pediatrics.