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Childhood psychological function and obesity risk across the lifecourse: findings from the 1970 British Cohort Study.

BACKGROUND: Psychological comorbidities of obesity are well recognised. However, the role of childhood psychological problems in the aetiology of later obesity has been little studied.

DESIGN: Secondary analyses of a national birth cohort (1970 British Cohort Study).

ANALYSIS: Logistic regression models to predict obesity risk at 26, 30 and 34 years related to hypothesised predictors: maternal and teacher reported child psychological function at 5 and 10 years (general behavioural, conduct, emotional or attentional/hyperactivity problems) and maternal psychological function.

RESULTS: General behavioural problems at age 5 years increased the risk of obesity at 30 and 34 years. Persistence of these problems through childhood further increased the obesity risk. Inattention/hyperactivity at 10 years similarly increased risk of obesity at 30 years (adjusted odds ratios (AOR) 1.3). Chronic conduct problems at 5 and 10 years also increased the obesity risk at 30 years (AOR 1.6 (1.1, 2.4) P<0.05). Childhood emotional disorders and maternal psychological function were not associated with adult obesity.

CONCLUSION: Children with early and persistent behavioural problems, particularly conduct problems, hyperactivity and inattention in early and mid-childhood are at an increased risk of obesity in adult life. The promotion of child and adolescent mental health and well-being may form an important part of future obesity prevention strategies. The promotion of healthy eating and activity should form part of secondary prevention and management strategies for children with disruptive behaviour disorders.

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