The World Health Organization reports that at least one and a half billion adults are overweight and approximately 400 million are obese.  What may be even more shocking is that millions of children are already considered too fat.   VOA's Melinda Smith reports on two studies of American children that may reflect a disturbing global trend.

It's no secret that too many adults around the world are overweight.  But when 20 million children under the age of five are considered too fat, researchers worry about the risk of chronic illness as these kids grow older.

Now research of at least 3,600 children in North America shows that poor eating habits and lack of exercise are producing risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and diabetes.  To make matters worse, tests on some of these kids indicated narrowing and hardening of the arteries.  That is a condition normally associated with adults.

There are also indications that a family's eating habits may play a role in childhood obesity.  Scientists at the University of Wisconsin studied at least 2,000 low-income children under the age of three and found something surprising. The children were from Hispanic, African American and Caucasian groups.  By measuring the height and weight of each child, results showed that Hispanic children up to age three were twice as likely to be overweight or obese, than black and white youngsters of the same age group. The researchers were unable to explain the connection between racial background and being overweight.

What they discovered was that kids with overweight parents had twice the risk of being heavy themselves, and babies who were breast-fed for at least six months after birth had better odds of staying within normal weight range.

NOTE: "Racial and Ethnic Differentials in Children's Overweight and Obesity Among Three Year Olds" will be published in the February 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.