Obesity Risk Can Be Predicted at Birth



By Annie Hauser

A simple set of factors can determine whether a child will become obese, researchers from Imperial College London report in the journal PLOS One.

To help parents know their child's risk, researchers developed a simple online calculator available online here.

The formula is based on the baby's birth weight, the body mass index of both parents, the mother's professional status, and whether she smoked during pregnancy. Researchers hope these measures will help identify high-risk infants and encourage parents to take steps to keep their child at a healthy weight.

Researchers developed the formula using data from a 1986 study of about 4,000 Finnish children. At first, they tried to identify which genetic factors were linked to childhood obesity, but the genetic tests failed to make accurate predictions. Instead, they found that non-genetic information that was easily available at birth was more accurate in predicting obesity. The formula proved accurate among the Finnish group, as well as further tests that used data from Italian and American studies. They found that the top 20 percent of children predicted to have the highest risk make up 80 percent of obese children.

"All the data we use are well-known risk factors for childhood obesity, but this is the first time they have been used together to predict from the time of birth the likelihood of a child becoming obese," said Philippe Froguel, PhD, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who led the study. Froguel also emphasized the importance of obesity prevention.

"Once a young child becomes obese, it's difficult for them to lose weight, so prevention is the best strategy, and it has to begin as early as possible," he explained. "Unfortunately, public prevention campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children. Teaching parents about the dangers of over-feeding and bad nutritional habits at a young age would be much more effective."

Researchers also noted that 1 in 10 cases of obesity are caused by rare genetic mutations that affect appetite regulation. Tests for these mutations could become more widely available over the next several years, as DNA sequencing technology becomes more readily available.

"Obesity Risk Can Be Predicted At Birth" originally appeared on Everyday Health.

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