Quarter of children fat before five
One in four children in Northern Ireland are overweight by the time they start school, according to new research linking an early start on solid foods to obesity.
Babies given solid foods before they are four months old are more likely to be overweight at the age of three than other infants, the research suggests.
More than one in four (26%) babies given solids before four months were overweight aged three, compared with 22% of those fed solids later on.
The same held true when the youngsters reached five, with 24% of those given solids before four months being overweight, compared with 20% of those given solids after four months.
The research also found that children who were not breastfed were more likely to be overweight (23% compared with 18% of those breastfed for four months or more).
Experts from University College London examined data for more than 12,000 youngsters participating in the UK-wide Millennium Cohort Study.
They found that black children in the UK are far more likely to be overweight than other youngsters when joining primary school.
More than one in three black Caribbean and black African children (36%) were overweight aged five, compared with 17% of Pakistani and 21% of white children.
Black youngsters also had a higher risk of being overweight aged three — 30%, compared with 10% of Indian children. The researchers found higher proportions of overweight children in Northern Ireland and Wales, than in England and Scotland.
One in four (25%) children in Northern Ireland was overweight at age five, compared with 24% in Wales and 21% in England and Scotland. In England, 26% of five-year-olds in the North East were overweight, compared with 18% in the South West.At age three, 27% of children in the North East were overweight, compared with just 19% in the East of England.
Living in a family with a lower household income and having a less educated mother were also factors that made children more likely to be overweight.
Youngsters of single mothers were also more prone to being heavy at age three and five.
Overall, 18% of the children in the study were overweight at age three and 5% were obese, while 16% were overweight at age five and 5% were obese.