Nothing looks cuter than a baby chubby with baby fat. Yet, that same baby fat should be cause for concern when it remains on a toddler. Childhood obesity is a growing problem in this society, and its beginning occurs earlier in life than many realize. According to a study published December 28 in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health, more than a third of low-income, urban children are overweight before three years old. Across the board, approximately 30 percent of American children are overweight as reported by the American Obesity Association.

Not everyone who is overweight is obese. Many children and adults are a few pounds above their ideal weight, but obesity refers to a body mass index (a statistical measure of weight and height) of 30 or higher. Even if a child is only slightly overweight, parents should not wait it out and assume the child will grow slimmer. A September 2006 press release from the National Institutes of Health shows a strong link between being overweight in early childhood and obesity in adolescence.

Children who are overweight in elementary school are 25 times more likely to be overweight at age 12 compared to their peers who were normal weight at the same age. Unless serious changes occur, these children risk becoming adults who face heart attacks, strokes and other health problems, as well as limited enjoyment out of life.

Obesity often correlates to a lack of exercise and high-fat diet, but family history and medical problems can be factors as well. Prevention is best started early and at home as soon as your child is old enough to move. Get your child involved in physical activities, and do some activities as a family.

Prepare and eat healthy meals together and limit the amount of television your family watches. It is not enough to dictate healthy habits to a child; you have to be willing to follow them yourself. Talk to your pediatrician about your child’s weight, exercise habits and eating habits to determine your child’s needs at each growth stage. It’s never too late to make a change; it not for yourself, then certainly for your child.