This topic is the focus of an extensive review by Tristin Brisbois and colleagues from the University of Alberta, just published in OBESITY REVIEWS.
In their paper, the researchers screen the literature on data supporting a role for a wide range of factors in early childhood (≤5 years of age) that potentially predict the development of obesity in adulthood.
Factors of interest included exposures/insults in the prenatal period, infancy and early childhood, as well as other socio-demographic variables such as socioeconomic status (SES) or birth place that could impact all three time periods.
Their review of over 8,000 citations, resulted in relevant 135 studies, which reported a total of 42 variables as being associated with obesity in adulthood.
Of these, however, only seven variables made the cut as potential early markers of obesity.
These included maternal smoking and maternal weight gain during pregnancy, maternal body mass index, childhood growth patterns (early rapid growth and early adiposity rebound), childhood obesity and father’s employment (a proxy measure for SES in many studies).
Notably, neither early childhood nutrition or physical activity were identified as possible predictors.
Although such association studies alone by no means imply causality, the identified variables are nevertheless worth considering as reasonable targets in the development of health promotion programmes to reduce the risk of adult obesity. Clearly, the feasibility and effectiveness of such measures remains to be demonstrated.
Brisbois TD, Farmer AP, & McCargar LJ (2011). Early markers of adult obesity: a review. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity PMID: 22171945
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