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Pediatrics. 1997 Apr;99(4):E1.

Prevalence of overweight among preschool children in the United States, 1971 through 1994.

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  • 1Division of Health Examination Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Maryland, USA.



To examine the prevalence of overweight among US preschool children 2 months through 5 years of age between the years 1971 through 1974 and 1988 through 1994.


Nationally representative cross-sectional surveys with a physical examination, including measurement of stature, length, and weight. Between 1200 and 7500 children younger than 6 years were examined in each of four different surveys during 1971 through 1974 (first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES I]), 1976 through 1980 (NHANES II), 1982 through 1984 (Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), and 1988 through 1994 (NHANES III).


The prevalence of overweight increased among some sex and age groups of preschool children between 1971 through 1974 and 1988 through 1994. More than 10% of 4- and 5-year-old girls were overweight in 1988 through 1994 compared with 5.8% in 1971 through 1974. However, there was no change during this period in the prevalence of overweight among 1- and 2- to 3-year-old children. During 1988 through 1994, the prevalence of overweight among children 2 months through 5 years of age was consistently higher in girls than boys. Mexican-American children had a higher prevalence of overweight than non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white children. These results parallel what has been reported for older children and adults in the United States.


These results show that in the last 20 years the prevalence of overweight has increased among 4- and 5-year-old children but not among younger children. These findings suggest that efforts to prevent overweight, including encouragement of physical activity and improved diets, should begin in early childhood.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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