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Five questions to predict obesity from birth

Formula will help parents identify obesity risk to children. Picture: Getty

Formula will help parents identify obesity risk to children. Picture: Getty

A LIST of five simple signs which experts believe can help determine if a baby will become fat is being made available to parents for the first time.

Childhood obesity experts have uncovered the factors which can determine a newborn’s future waistline – a baby’s birth weight, the body mass index (BMI) of both parents, the number of people in the household, a mother’s profession and whether she smoked during pregnancy.

They hope the formula will help families and health professionals identify at-risk youngsters. The latest Scottish Health Survey revealed only two-thirds of children (65.6 per cent) had a healthy weight – down from 70.3 in 1998. It also showed almost two-thirds (64.3 per cent) of adults in Scotland are now overweight or obese.

A separate Scottish Government study also highlighted how one in ten Scots children is already clinically obese by the time they start primary school.

Childhood obesity is a leading cause of early type-2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease in later life, health experts have warned. The new formula has been developed by the School of Public Health at Imperial 
College London, and is based on findings of a study carried out in Finland in 1986.

Scientists found that while genetic profiles were unreliable, non-genetic information readily available at birth could predict which children would become obese.

The formula has also been tested on thousands of youngsters in Italy and the USA. The 20 per cent predicted to have the highest risk at birth went on to make up 80 per cent of obese children in later life, the researchers said.

Study leader Professor Philippe Froguel, of Imperial College, said: “This test takes very little time, it doesn’t require any lab tests and it doesn’t cost 
anything.

“All the data used are well-known risk factors for 
childhood obesity but this is the first time they have been used all together to predict from the time of birth the likelihood of a child becoming obese.”

The team said families with high-risk infants could benefit from dietician and psychology services from an earlier stage in a youngster’s life to try and help the family make choices which should lessen the chances of a child becoming overweight.

This would include making sure they ate the correct diet and took part in regular exercise at recommended healthy levels for their age group.

Prof Froguel said: “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.

“Unfortunately, public campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children.”

Key indicators

The five questions are:

1 What is the baby’s birth weight?

2 What is the Body Mass Index (BMI) of both mother and father?

3 How many members are there in the baby’s household?

4 What is the mother’s profession? (unemployed/manual skilled/non-manual skilled/professional)

5 Did the mother smoke during pregnancy?

 

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