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Childhood Predictors of Adult Obesity

There are good reasons to believe that for a significant number of people, the foundations of adult obesity may well be established in early childhood or even in utero.

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.

Dallas, TX

ResearchBlogging.orgBrisbois 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




  1. I do not see a touch of hyperinsulinemia on the list.

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  2. At least two of those factors could just be markers for heritability.

    High maternal weight gain during pregnancy may indicate restrained eating / dieting before pregnancy, which suggests a heavier than average woman who has reduced her weight. A high maternal body mass index… well, that’s pretty direct. A mom with a large build is more likely to have kids that look like her. No surprise there.

    I can’t access the article; it’s behind a pay wall. Did they look into paternal BMI? I remember that other studies have indicated that children also tend to physically resemble their fathers. What a shock.

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  3. I have cursory knowledge of childhood obesity. I wanted to understand the early AR a little more and wondered if you have a simple explanation of what contributes to: An early AR (younger age at the point of AR) is associated with higher BMI in adolescence.

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  4. I personally would be interested to know if there is any correlation between maternal weight loss during pregnancy and obesity.

    I was a full term, low birth weight (5lbs, 7oz) baby born to a mother who weighed 125lbs or less before she got pregnant, and was, immediately after delivery, 12lbs lighter than prior to her pregnancy. I have always wondered if that contributed to my fat (I am a former patient of Dr. Sharma’s from Hamilton).

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