Researchers have developed a tool to assess a newborn baby's risk for child or adolescent obesity based on various demographic characteristics.
If validated, the team hopes their method will help parents and healthcare staff identify children at risk for obesity and put measures in place to prevent this at an early stage.
"This test takes very little time, it doesn't require any lab tests and it doesn't cost anything," said study author Philippe Froguel, Imperial College London, UK, in a press statement.
"All the data we use are well-known risk factors for childhood obesity, but this is the first time they have been used together to predict from the time of birth the likelihood of a child becoming obese."
As reported in PLoS ONE, the team collected data from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort on 4032 individuals born in 1986 who were followed up from their 12th gestational week. All these individuals had height and weight measurements taken at age 7 and 16 years.
Froguel and colleagues found that a cumulative score based on a number of factors, including parental body mass index (BMI), birthweight, maternal gestational weight gain, parental professional category, single parenthood, pre-pregnancy and/or gestational smoking, and number of household members, significantly predicted childhood and adolescent obesity.
The area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve for childhood obesity, adolescent obesity, and childhood obesity persisting to adolescence was 0.78, 0.75, and 0.85, respectively, for the Finnish cohort. Addition of a genetic score for 39 BMI-associated polymorphisms made little difference to the accuracy of the risk score, improving discrimination by 1% or less.
In two validation cohorts, comprising 1503 Italian children and 1032 US children, the predictive value of the combined score for childhood obesity was also good, with area under the ROC curve scores of 0.70 and 0.73, respectively.
"Once a young child becomes obese, it's difficult for them to lose weight, so prevention is the best strategy, and it has to begin as early as possible," said Froguel.
"Unfortunately, public prevention campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children. Teaching parents about the dangers of over-feeding and bad nutritional habits at a young age would be much more effective."
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