Researchers can predict which children are most likely to become obese by examining their mothers’ behavior around birth, according to a University of Montreal study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Analyzing data

University of Montreal researchers analyzed data of around 2,000 children from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development that ran from 1998 to 2006. The data included children's height and weight measurement taken yearly, from age five months to eight years old.

Looking at the children's body mass index (BMI), researchers identified three groups: children with low but stable BMI, children with moderate BMI and children who's BMI was elevated and rising (high-rising group).

"We discovered the trajectories of all three groups were similar until the children were about two and a half," said Laura Pryor, a PhD candidate at the university's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine.

"Around that point the BMIs of the high-rising group of children began to take off. By the time these children moved into middle childhood, more than 50 per cent of them were obese according to international criteria, she said."

Factors for Obesity

Researchers found two factors that may increase children's BMI. One was the mother's weight around the time of birth and mothers that smoked. The children of mothers who smoked and overweight were most likely in the high-rising group.

"Although behavior is extremely hard to change and is also influenced by a complex tangle of influencing factors in the environment, I hope these findings will help improve the social and medical services we offer to mothers and infants," said Pryor.

Researchers point out the risk factors represent increased probabilities of becoming overweight, not direct causes. More research will be required to determine how these early-life factors and others are correlated with childhood obesity.

"Our research adds to the growing evidence that the perinatal environment has an important influence on later obesity," Pryor said. "This points to the need for early interventions with at-risk families in order to prevent the development of childhood weight problems and the intergenerational transmission of ill health.

Childhood Obesity Impact

Obesity now affects 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of all children and adolescents in the United States - triple the rate from just one generation ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.