'Parents key' in toddler obesity
Obesity in children has different causes at different ages, new research has found.
A comparison of children in 2010 with data on youngsters in the 1980s found that the rise in obesity in very young children has been largely restricted to those with obese parents.
In contrast, obesity in adolescents was found to have occurred across the entire age group.
The study, led by the University of Exeter Medical School, found that before the early 1980s, childhood obesity remained at around 5%, but by 2010 it had shot up to 16%.
Researchers looked at body mass index (BMI) data from the 1980s and compared it to children who were measured annually between 2000 and 2012.
They found no difference between the birth weights of the two groups but, by the age of five years, there was a marked increase in the proportion of obese children in the 2000s group - 4% of boys and 5% of girls - compared with just 2% of children in the 1980s.
Their analysis found the swell in numbers who were obese by five years came largely from the children of obese parents, and was not seen in the rest of the population.
Outside the toddlers of obese parents, there was little change in BMI over a generation.
In older children, the team also found an increase in obesity, but this time it affected the whole age group, regardless of parentage.
Researchers said their findings suggest that parenting is the fundamental influence on weight gain in the early years, whereas more general influences take over later on.
Professor Terence Wilkin, who led the study, which is published in the International Journal of Obesity, said: "Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health issues of our time.
"If we are to develop strategies to intervene effectively, we must first understand the cause.
"This study indicates for the first time that childhood obesity has different causes, depending on the age of the child.
"We now need further studies to explore this in more depth, as it could have significant implications for healthcare."
Meanwhile, another piece of research has suggested c linicians are turning a "blind eye" to child patients who are overweight or obese.
A small-scale study of children visiting an outpatients department over a 10-week period looked at whether doctors and nurses offered any intervention to those who were overweight or obese, such as advice, further investigation or further specialist support.
While one in four children were overweight or obese, few were offered any such intervention - while in contrast, all underweight children were investigated and given follow-up support.
The study found that of the 11% of children who were obese, only a third (34%) were offered anything like this - while just 2% of youngsters who were overweight were offered any, despite 14% of them seen being so.
Paediatrician Dr Thomas Waterfield, who co-led the study of more than 400 children at Luton & Dunstable Hospital, said clinicians cited lack of time as a major reason for not bringing the issue up with their patients, while fear of damaging their relationships with them was also a factor.
He said a "cultural shift" was needed in addressing children being overweight and also suggested GPs needed to bring the topic up with young patients.
"If one in four children reaching outpatients' are obese or overweight and it's not being reached before they reach the clinic, that would suggest to me that it's not being recognised in primary care," he said.
He added that the hospital is currently training an obesity nurse specialist to support clinicians during outpatient clinics and is to offer additional training and educational support with a view to changing clinician attitudes towards obesity.
The emerging research is due to be presented at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health's (RCPCH) annual conference this week.