Speedy Weight Gain in Infants can Foretell Childhood Obesity

November 12, 2012

Speedy Weight Gain in Infants can Foretell Childhood Obesity

A new Harvard study carried out by Elsie M. Taveras, MD, MPH, and her colleagues has found that infants who gain weight quickest are the children with the largest risk of becoming obese in later life. The study, which is published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, inspected the medical records of 44,622 children between 1980 and 2008. The children’s ages ranged from one month to eleven years.

The information collected by the researchers included weight and height of the children during their first two years and then the same measurements were taken at age 5 and again at age 10.

The report found that the children who gained the most weight in their first six months were the children prone to obesity at five years old and ten years old. Taveras explains that the risk of becoming obese increases in a corresponding fashion to increasing weight-for-length percentile.

Using standard procedures and diagrams a pediatrician charts a child’s growth by measuring the weight and height of the child at a certain age and then making a comparison with standard child growth charts as produced by the CDC. These charts plot the relationship between height and weight and display a number of percentiles, normally 5, 10, 25, 50, 75, 90 and 95.

When children are very young it is common for them to go from one percentile to another within the six month measurement period. So they could have been in the 50 percentile range before but today they are in the 75 percentile. They may even continue to increase weight into the 90 percentile during the next measurement period. This is just saying what every parent knows, children grow at different rates throughout their childhood.

This is saying that for the first measurement period the child grew more than 50% of similar children and during the next period the child grew more than 75% of similar children and then continued their spurt by growing faster than 90% of similar children.

However Taveras and her colleagues report that, “upward crossing of major weight-for-length percentiles in infancy, especially in the first six months of life, is associated with high rates of obesity at ages 5 and 10 years”. The researchers say that when the child is under two years old it is the increased leap over two or more percentiles that represents the risk.

A further finding notes that children who were 24 months had twice the risk of becoming obese at age 5, and at age 10 that risk was 75%, if they had jumped two or more percentiles.

The researchers also note that 43% of all children do jump across 2 percentiles before they are six months without any future issues relating to obesity.

The study also found that even if children had lower weights the risks remained the same. If a six month old child passed two percentile lines and had been 25 to begin with then that child’s risk of becoming obese at age five is 7.4%.

Taveras and her colleagues agree that tracking changes in percentile relating to weight for height is a simple procedure but they are unsure of what action should come from the findings. She concludes by saying, “It remains to be seen whether interventions based on such early identification result in improvements in child health”.

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