Sedentary lifestyle in early childhood identified as major risk factor for obesity

01/14/04

Research among young children in Scotland in this week's issue of THE LANCET highlights how the sedentary lifestyle that increases the risk of obesity-common in industrialised countries-can be apparent in children as young as three years of age. Authors of the research and of an accompanying Commentary state that public-health solutions need to be introduced to increase the activity of young children to help reverse the growing trend of obesity.

John J Reilly from the University of Glasgow and Yorkhill Hospital, UK, and colleagues recruited 78 children aged three years and measured their total energy expenditure (TEE), physical activity, and sedentary behaviour. 72 children from the original assessment were followed-up two years later. Average physical activity values in the study were within accepted ranges for light to sedentary work, and show that lifestyles of this sample of young children were sedentary and would increase obesity risk. At ages 3 and 5 years, TEE was significantly lower than the UK estimated average requirement for energy, by about 200 calories per day.

The authors observe how children in this study typically spent only 20-25 min per day in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Present recommendations are that most children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.

John J. Reilly comments: "We have provided objective evidence that present recommendations for physical activity are not being met by many young children. Low levels of physical activity might have been predicted, but directly measured objective data have not been available, and there is a widespread perception among parents and health and educational professionals that young children are spontaneously active. Prevalence of childhood obesity in the UK has increased strikingly in recent years. Public-health interventions are needed urgently, and these must involve population-based strategies that increase physical activity, reduce sedentary behaviour, or both in early life."

In an accompanying Commentary (p 182), James Hill From the Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, USA, concludes: "It is time for the UK to take action to prevent the excessive weight gain that is likely to occur in its young children. Increasing physical activity must be a part of any national prevention efforts for weight gain. Changing behaviour to prevent weight gain will be easier than treating obesity once established. It is time to get serious about prevention of weight gain in the UK."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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