Researchers have developed a simple formula that predicts childhood obesity at birth. A recent study conducted at the Imperial College London analyzed data from a cohort of 4,032 Finnish newborns and compared this with similar data obtained from Italian and U.S. cohorts. This study showed a relationship between data collected at birth, and the risk that these newborns will develop childhood or adolescent obesity. The factors that made up the obesity prediction formula were:
- Parental BMI
- Birth weight
- Maternal weight gain during pregnancy
- Number of household members
- Maternal professional occupation
- Maternal smoking habits
The risk factor most strongly associated with predicting childhood obesity was parental BMI.
Obesity can cause serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Prof Philippe Froguel from Imperial College London stated that the strategies in place are not sufficient to prevent obesity.
Unfortunately, public prevention campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children. Teaching parents about the dangers of overfeeding and bad nutritional habits at a young age would be much more effective.
Knowing that a newborn is at risk of being obese will allow families to put in place prevention strategies at home. This is important as a baby’s lifestyle can greatly impact their eating habits, and hence weight gain in future.
Prevention strategies during early infancy include:
- Breast feeding
- Avoiding television
- Avoiding sugary drinks
- Positive re-inforcement (food as a reward)
This study is promising for children who are at risk for obesity. However, caution needs to be taken to ensure these children are complying with the healthy eating and exercise regime recommended by physicians. It would be a shame if these children are programmed to believe they will be obese and become complacent with this future.
Researchers are now focusing on applying this tool to clinics; however support is needed in order to provide families with the right advice for obesity prevention.