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Obesity could be linked to early childhood behavior
March 18, 2018, 11:43 am

A combination of unhealthy behaviors among children could be the greatest predictors of whether or not they will experience obesity issues later in adulthood, say researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

The study found that rather than concentrating only on childhood eating habits to prevent obesity, public health efforts should also identify and correct poor behaviors that are often developed in early childhood.

Adolescents with obesity often maintain their weight status into adulthood, increasing their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The researchers recommended that health practitioners should be targeting clusters of risky behaviors using a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach.

Research shows that while calorie intake has not dramatically changed over time, habits such as lack of exercise, smoking, drug and alcohol use have increased.  It is increasingly important to target these risky behaviors together, and early, before they become habits, said the researchers.

The study involved Ontario students in grades nine and ten, ranging from 13 to 17 years of age and participating in the COMPASS Study — a nine-year study started in 2012 and funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research.

Students reported risky behaviors at the beginning of the study, and their heights and weights were tracked for two additional years. Based on their reported behaviors, the teens were classified as Typical High School Athletes, Inactive High Screen-Users (‘Screenagers’), Moderately Active Substance Users, or Health Conscious. The researchers found that although the four groups saw similar increases to their weight status over the years that they were followed, students in the Health Conscious group had the healthiest body weight at start of the study.

Intervening and modifying unhealthy behaviors earlier in childhood might have a greater impact than during adolescence. Health promotion strategies targeting higher risk youth as they enter secondary school might be the best way to prevent or delay the onset of obesity, and might have better public health outcomes over the longer term, said the team behind the study.


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