The obesity epidemic has become a major public health problem in both industrialized countries and the developing world.
Recent studies suggest that the major development of persistent adiposity is established already at pre-adolescence. The fact that obesity is mainly determined before puberty implies that preschool detection of children at risk is essential along with individual prevention programs provided by the school health services in liaison with specialists. However, few methods are available for cost-effective detection of the pre-school children at risk.
In June 20th issue of PLoS ONE, a Swedish study reports a protocol that detects with high precision 30% of all obese pre-adolescent children already at age 5 using only weight and height data. The protocol selects boys having a body mass index (BMI) above the international standard for obesity at both age 4 and age 5, and girls having a BMI higher than 20 at the age 5 for individual weight-reduction programs. The protocol does not require additional tests or equipment, and can thereby be used in any child healthcare setting where the growth of preschool children is monitored. Already in its present form, the protocol can save sizeable societal costs accrued by obesity and reduce suffering among the affected individuals and their families. The researchers will still continue to refine the protocol in order to increase the share of detected obese pre-adolescents without loosing the high precision.
This extension of the protocol is likely to require inclusion of new observation in the routine health monitoring of pre-school children, such as family heredity for obesity and eating behaviours.