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Infant BMI may help predict obesity at age 4

Posted:  Thursday, March 19, 2015

What if a parent can get a window into the future health of their children? What if they could predict obesity in their children and prevent it? American researchers have done just that; they have found that an infant’s body mass index (BMI) may help predict if the child will become obese by 4 years of age. The results from this study could further the understanding of infant growth patterns and help formulate early efforts to prevent obesity.

The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, evaluated the electronic health records of 2,114 healthy children from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The majority (61%) of these children were of African American descent. Body mass index, a measure that includes both weight and height, increases after birth, reaching its peak in infancy, usually between eight and nine months of age.

The researchers observed significantly different growth trajectories between African-American infants and white infants. African American infants reached the peak BMI 12 days earlier than white infants and it was 3% higher in magnitude than others who were primarily of European descent. Overall, African American infants seemed to have more than twice the risk of obesity at age 4 in comparison to others.

The researchers also evaluated ancestry-based differences in growth patterns, and found that infant BMI was more associated with childhood obesity risk than ancestry. In addition, the researchers found that socio-economic factors played a role in infant BMI; higher rates of poverty were associated with higher and earlier peak BMI.

In children under the age of 2, there is currently no consensus regarding the definition of obesity. Talking about the study findings, Shana E. McCormack, the lead author of the study and a pediatric endocrinologist says, “In the absence of an accepted, valid definition of obesity in infancy, we struggle both as researchers and clinicians with how to best individualize recommendations for infants to prevent childhood obesity. Our findings suggest that infant BMI pattern could be one additional tool. In addition, infant BMI may be an early metric to use in evaluating the impact of public policy interventions.”

Obesity and its associated complications are of public health importance. In such a scenario, prevention is indeed better than cure. With further studies supporting these findings, the BMI of infants could indeed be used as an early tool to detect obesity later in life.

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