The key to predicting childhood obesity could lie in the simple weight/height growth charts used by GPs and child health nurses to evaluate health and development in early childhood, a study has found.

The American study, which followed more than 44,000 babies over a ten-year period, looked at an infant’s weight/height ratio, and determined that those who rose two or more percentiles before their second birthday were twice as likely to be obese by their fifth birthday, and 75 per cent more likely to be obese by age ten.

Childhood obesity is a growing global issue, and Dr Elsie Taveras, co-director of the One Step Ahead obesity prevention programme at Children’s Hospital in Boston, who led the study, says that while the findings themselves are hardly ground-breaking, it is the first study to concentrate on growth charts, effectively giving family doctors the ability to predict weight problems at routine check-ups.

Dr Talavera believes that the findings will help doctors to identify babies who are at risk of obesity in later life, and that taking a proactive approach in such cases may help reduce the likelihood of the child developing weight problems further down the track.

'We shouldn't neglect these early gains and think that it's just baby fat, and that these children are going to grow out of it,’ she says.

‘Crossing two or more percentiles in weight-for-length should trigger a discussion between parents and their paediatric providers of what's contributing to the rapid gains.’

While she doesn’t advocate putting babies and young children on a diet, Dr Taveras suggests there are a number of ways to prevent childhood obesity, including breastfeeding for as long as possible, delaying the introduction of solid foods until at least four months (which is in line with current Australian and WHO guidelines), avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks and giving babies the opportunity to move with plenty of tummy time, instead of confining them to a stroller or highchair for extended periods.

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