In the US, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past 3 decades. But in a new study, researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK say they have identified a number of risk factors that, if modified early, could prevent childhood obesity.
Past studies have indicated that certain factors in a child's early life may influence their likelihood of becoming obese later in life.
In this latest study, however, Prof. Robinson and her team wanted to assess how a combination of previously documented early-life risk factors affect a child's risk of later-life obesity.
Among 991 mother and child pairs who were a part of the Southampton Women's Survey, the team assessed the effects of five early-life risk factors that have been associated with childhood obesity: obesity, excess weight gain, smoking and low vitamin D levels during a mother's pregnancy, and short breastfeeding duration (less than 1 month) after birth.
The researchers found that only 148 (15%) of the children had no early-life risk factors for childhood obesity, while 330 (33%) had one risk factor, 296 (30%) had two, 160 (16%) had three and 57 (6%) had four or five.
When the children were 4 years of age, the researchers found that those with four or five early-life risk factors had a 19% higher fat mass and were were 3.99 times more likely to be overweight or obese than those who had no risk factors.
When the children were 6 years old, the team found that those who had four or five early-life risk factors had a 47% higher fat mass and were 4.65 times more likely to be overweight or obese than those with no risk factors.
Prof. Robinson says these findings indicate that "interventions to prevent obesity need to start earlier, even before conception, and that having a healthy body weight and not smoking at this time could be key."