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Children who had a high body mass index (BMI) before they were two years old had poorer outcomes when they were 14.

A child becomes overweight when the amount of energy they take in is greater than what they expend through physical activity and day-to-day life. There are genetic factors that influence weight gain and body type too, but diet and activity play a significant role.

Better Health Victoria says children who are overweight can face a number of difficulties. They may feel different to other kids, be bullied and generally feel less confident in themselves. Aside from this, evidence suggests that being overweight in childhood is linked to poorer health outcomes in adulthood.

A recent Australian study aimed to find out whether different profiles of body mass index change (how it went up or down during childhood) influenced cardiovascular health in early adolescence.

The researchers used data from a previous study which tracked the height and weight of children from birth to age 14. This meant the study could sort the children into three main groups – those whose BMI was relatively normal from birth to 14 years, those who had an ‘early rising’ BMI (they had a higher BMI than usual by age two) and those with a ‘late rising’ BMI (they had a higher BMI than usual by age five).

Then all the children had measurements of their central weight gain, or how much weight they’d gained around the middle, their cholesterol and their blood pressure.

What they found was that both the early risers and the late risers had poorer outcomes than those with a normal BMI, but there were also differences between the two high-BMI groups.

Those who gained excess BMI by age two had more weight around their middle by the time they were 14. A larger waist circumference is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They also had higher cholesterol levels compared to the healthy teenagers. Children with an elevated BMI were also more likely to have mothers who were overweight or obese.

Implications

If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, see a health professional. Children shouldn’t be placed on diets that put them into a significant caloric deficit.

Then key is a sustainable pattern of eating and exercise which minimises weight gain, but for that to happen, it’s almost certain the diets and lifestyle of everyone in the family will need to change.

Last Reviewed: 25/01/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Barraclough, et al (2019). Weight Gain Trajectories from Birth to Adolescence and Cardiometabolic Status in Adolescence. The Journal of Pediatrics doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.12.034.