Pediatricians often begin to monitor kids for obesity risk at age 2 but findings of a new study have revealed that severe obesity is already predictable as early as 6 months old.

Measuring the body mass index (BMI) of babies at 6 months old could identify children who are likely to develop obesity early in life, according to a new study presented on April 1 at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston.

Study researcher Dr. Allison Smego, from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and colleagues looked at the health records of 783 lean and 480 severely obese children who were between 2 and 6 years old.

Based on the children's growth and weight records, the researchers found that BMI trajectories differ between those who were severely obese at 6 years old and those with normal weight as early as when they were 4 months old.

Children whose BMI was above the 85th percentile rank were found to have three times the risk for severe obesity at age 6. The researchers said that a BMI at or above the 85th percentile by the time the child is at 6, 12 or 18 months strongly predicts the likelihood for severe obesity in childhood.

The researchers said that while it is not currently recommended to measure the children's BMI under age 2, they believe it should be because it can help identify babies who are at risk for obesity later.

Early obesity poses concern because of its link with serious and chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. In a 2015 study, researchers conducted imaging tests on 8-year-old obese children and found signs of heart disease.

Children with weight problems are also often likely to suffer from health-related issues later in life.

"These children have a high lifetime risk for persistent obesity and metabolic disease and should be monitored closely at a very young age," Smego said.

Smego said it is better to prevent obesity than play catch-up later. For babies with increased risk for the condition, the researcher said it is important to evaluate what the children eat and if they are given age-appropriate diet. Counseling and providing education to the children's family would also help.

"Pediatricians can identify high-risk infants with BMI above the 85th percentile and focus additional counseling and education regarding healthy lifestyles toward the families of these children. Our hope in using this tool is that we can prevent obesity in early childhood," Smego said.

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