At the moment children are weighed fairly frequently when they’re babies, with their last developmental check age two. They’re weighed again when they start primary school at the age of four and once more when they leave at age 11 as part of the National Child Measurement Programme.
But the study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, suggests future body mass index (BMI) can start to be predicted in some children when they are just a few years old.
This means that by not being weighed regularly, earlier, some children may slip through the net. Particularly as figures reveal that more than a fifth of children are already overweight at their first measurement.
A significant number of UK children may also be a healthy weight or underweight when they start primary school but go on to develop obesity, experts from the universities of Oxford and Manchester said.
That’s why they are recommending that children should be weighed at two when there is still time to intervene. And again every subsequent year.
“The evidence suggests that children should be weighed and measured every year from at least the age of two,” said study leader, Dr Heather Robinson of the University of Manchester.
“We can tell different patterns of child growth apart from as early as two to five years, but only if we measure children regularly. So it’s important to start measuring children as early in life as possible, and to continue to do so throughout childhood.
“This way, we can give parents and health professionals the information they need to support children and families.”
A childhood obesity epidemic?
The study used data on more than 750,000 children worldwide, taken from 54 studies, to find out typical patterns of growth.
Since 2000, “late increasing children” have made up between 5% and 19% of children in the UK, USA and Australia, the authors said.
This refers to those who are underweight or normal weight when aged between three and five years old, but who go on to develop obesity.
The researchers suggest early and regular weighing would improve the effectiveness of the checks.
Dr Robinson continued: “Our work reiterates that not only are a minority of children identified as obese when they are following healthy growth pathways, but a group of children who become obese later have BMIs in the normal range at four to five years, so are missed.”
Commenting on the findings Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “millions of children have suffered from inaction” because the UK does not measure children regularly.
“The National Child Measurement Programme should be extended to cover every year of a child’s growing years to identify the first signs of excess weight developing, and programmes to ensure they are not left to get fatter put in place,” he said.
“We measure animals annually in our zoos to monitor their health and well-being but we fail to do the same for our children.”
The topic of childhood obesity has been much discussed recently.
Latest figures have revealed that unhealthy eating and a lack of exercise mean one in three pupils are now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
Further stats revealed earlier this year that one in 25 children in England aged 10 or 11 are severely obese.
Measurements on children’s weight and height show the number of children classed as ‘severely overweight’ rose from 15,000 in reception to 22,000 by their final year of primary school.
The data was collected as part of Public Health England figures, and was analysed by The Local Government Association (LGA)
Last January, Public Health England encouraged parents to count the calories in their child’s snacks.
Each year, children consume almost 400 biscuits, more than 120 cakes, 100 sweets, 70 chocolate bars and 70 ice creams, washed down with more than 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.