The pathway to obesity can be identified in babies as young as six months of age, scientists have shown.
Researchers used simple body mass index measurements to single out infants destined to struggle with weight in later life.
Study leader Allison Smego, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the US, said: “These children have a high lifetime risk for persistent obesity and metabolic disease and should be monitored closely at a very young age.”
Body mass index is a system of relating height and weight and expressed as kilograms per metres squared. In adults, a body mass index of 30kg/m2 or above is classified as obese.
Dr Smego’s team looked at several groups of lean and overweight children under the age of six. They included severely obese children referred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for specialised care.
The researchers compared 783 lean and 480 severely obese children, selected on the basis of their body mass index readings between the ages of two and six.
Growth and weight records showed the body mass index trajectories of children who were severely obese by the age of six began to differ from that of normal weight children at about four months of age.
“Body mass index at six, 12 or 18 months of age can accurately predict children at risk for early childhood obesity,” said Dr Smego, whose findings were presented at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston, US.
She added: “It’s not currently recommended to measure body mass index in children under the age of two, but we say it should be because we now know it predicts obesity risk later.
“Paediatricians can identify high-risk infants with body mass index above the 85th percentile (top 15%) and focus additional counselling and education regarding healthy lifestyles towards the families of these children.
“Our hope in using this tool is that we can prevent obesity in early childhood.”
A study published in The Lancet journal on Thursday predicted that if current trends continue more than a fifth of people in the world will be obese by 2025.
The research, led by a team from Imperial College London, showed that over a 40-year period between 1975 and 2014 the global number of obese individuals had soared from 105 million to 641 million.
With each passing decade, the average person had become 1.5kg heavier.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved