Stability of the association between birth weight and childhood overweight during the development of the obesity epidemic

Susi Rugholm, Jennifer L Baker, Lina W Olsen, Lene Schack-Nielsen, Jenny Bua, Thorkild I A Sørensen
Obesity Research 2005, 13 (12): 2187-94

OBJECTIVE: To assess whether changes in the birth weight distribution or changes in the association of birth weight with the later risk of childhood overweight have contributed to the development of the obesity epidemic.

RESEARCH METHODS AND PROCEDURES: A Danish population-based cohort study of 124,615 girls and 128,346 boys (ages 6 to 13 years), born between 1936 and 1983, were studied. Birth weight and annual measurements of height and weight were obtained from school health records. Overweight was defined by BMI in relation to internationally accepted criteria. The relative risk of being overweight by birth weight was calculated separately for each age, sex, and time period.

RESULTS: The birth weight distribution remained relatively stable over time. Compared with children with a birth weight of 3.0 to 3.5 kg, the risk of overweight increased consistently with each increase in birth weight category among girls and boys and at all ages between 6 and 13 years. Furthermore, the association between birth weight and increased risk of overweight in childhood remained stable across a 48-year period.

DISCUSSION: The increase in the prevalence of overweight could not be explained by time trends in the distribution of birth weight or by changes in the association between birth weight and the later risk of overweight over time. This implies that, unless the prenatal environment influences the later risk of overweight without increasing birth weight, the environmental influences contributing to the obesity epidemic in children of school age operate in the early postnatal period.

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