One health concern of parents today is child obesity. Knowing what children are at risk for being overweight can help parents discuss their concerns with their pediatrician.
A recent study found that children who had a few extra pounds at age 18 months were also more likely to be overweight at 8 years old.
These slightly overweight 18-month-olds were also a little more likely to have a higher systolic blood pressure (top number) and more fat around their waist.
Paying attention to these risk factors can help parents and healthcare providers address concerns about obesity early on.
The study, led by Michael R. Skilton, PhD, of the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise, and Eating Disorders at Sydney Medical School in Australia, aimed to find out whether children who gained extra weight early in childhood had health issues in later childhood.
The researchers followed 395 children from birth (between September 1997 and December 1999) through 8 years of age.
None of the children were diabetic, and the researchers had gathered data on the children's weight throughout the study.
When the children were 8 years old, the researchers also measured the thickness of the children's artery walls, their blood pressure and the fat around their waist.
The researchers found several factors that were linked to early excess weight gain in the children.
Whether or not a child was considered overweight or obese for their age was based on their body mass index (BMI) from US growth charts provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight. It is used to determine if a person is a healthy weight or is over- or underweight.
Boys were slightly more likely than girls to gain extra weight early in their first year and a half of life. Babies who were born longer and who were born earlier also tended to gain a very small amount of extra weight.
Each extra centimeter of a baby's length at birth was linked to an additional 0.34 pounds by 18 months of age.
Each week earlier a baby was born was linked to 0.27 extra pounds by 18 months of age.
Babies who did not breastfeed through their first six months were also an average 1.1 pounds heavier by 18 months of age.
For those children who had a little excess weight by 18 months of age, the researchers looked at their health at an average of 8 years of age.
For every 2.2 extra pounds the children had at 18 months old, they were about 67 percent more likely to be overweight and twice as likely to be obese at age 8 as the 18-month-olds who had been within normal weight ranges.
Babies with extra weight at 18 months old were also about 54 percent more likely (for each 2.2 extra pounds at 18 months old) to have extra fat around their waist.
They were more likely to have a higher systolic blood pressure (top number) at age 8. For each extra 2.2 pounds the 18-months-olds had, they had an average 1.24 mm Hg higher systolic blood pressure readings at age 8.
The slightly overweight 18-month-olds also tended to have a slightly thicker artery wall when they were 8 years old. For each extra 2.2 pounds the children had at 18 months old, their artery was 0.012 mm thicker at age 8.
The researchers did not find any links between cholesterol levels of the 8-year-olds based on their weight at 18 months old.
The researchers concluded that children who gain extra weight in their first year and a half of life are potentially at higher risk for being overweight or obese or having other health outcomes at age 8 that might put them at higher risk for diseases later in life.
Knowing this information can help parents be aware of their children's risk of being overweight and possibly help reduce the risk through some behaviors.
"Early postnatal weight gain from birth to age 18 months potentially affects later body size and arterial development, being independently associated with childhood overweight and obesity, excess central adiposity, and greater arterial wall thickness. We have identified, for example, that breastfeeding is a potentially modifiable factor associated with significantly less early-life weight gain," the authors wrote.
The study was published May 27 in the journal Pediatrics.
The research was funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma at Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.
In addition, Nu-Mega Ingredients Pty Ltd provided oil supplements, and Goodman Fielder Foods provided margarine and cooking oils at a reduced cost.
One of the authors serves on the advisory board to Novartis and has received grant funding from AstraZeneca. No other disclosures were reported.