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Examining why instilling healthy eating and exercise habits in children may not prevent obesity later in life

Earlier this year, Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, PhD, and colleagues at the School of Medicine published findings showing that instilling healthy eating and exercise habits in children to prevent being overweight later in life may not solve future adult obesity problems. In the study, researchers found that targeting prevention tactics to small children who are overweight might not be effective because a higher-than-normal weight at age 5 serves as an accurate predictor of adult obesity only 50 percent of the time.

Goldhaber-Fiebert, an assistant professor of medicine, discusses the findings and potential solutions to the problem in a Q&A published today in Inside Stanford Medicine. On the topic of promising approaches for reducing childhood obesity if the entire population is being targeted, he says:

Given that many health-related habits are developed in childhood, efforts to create healthy eating and exercise habits in children would seem to be beneficial. But for most potential interventions, we lack evidence of their widespread effectiveness over a long period of time. Do reductions in obesity persist from childhood into adulthood? Do they lead to measurable improvements in health outcomes? We do not have answers to these key questions.

Food, beverage or sugar taxes and other manipulations to food prices or availability may be effective, but may also have unintended harms and certainly come at the cost of curtailing personal choice. Re-engineering the built environment or nudging people with various behavioral/economic mechanisms have garnered attention though, again, widely generalizable evidence on them is lacking. The problem deserves continued creativity and ongoing evaluation and testing.

Previously: Study: When discussing childhood obesity, words carry weight, Obesity in kids: A growing epidemicStanford pediatrician discusses developing effective program to curtail childhood obesity and Major effort launched to prevent, treat childhood obesity
Photo by Chip Griffin

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