When a new little bundle of joy is added to the family, don’t just plan on starting a college fund. Better find out if your baby is going to end up obese while you’re at it. Researchers have published a handy formula for calculating the likelihood that a child will end up obese later in life. Simply add Mom’s BMI to Dad’s BMI, enter how many members are in the household and if Mom smoked while pregnant, punch in baby’s birth weight and voila!
Click here for the exact calculator.
The formula is based on baby’s birth weight, the body mass index of both parents, the mother’s professional status, and whether she smoked during pregnancy. Researchers hope that these measures will help identify high-risk infants.
Researchers also hope that parents will take the information and use it to help keep kids at a healthy weight.
The formula was developed using data from a 1986 study of about 4,000 Finnish children. While researchers initially tried to identify potential obesity with genetic factors, the genetic tests failed to accurately predict obesity rates. Non-genetic information, however, seemed to give more accurate predictions.
Simply put, there is no “fat gene” that researchers could identify. Instead, it seems that the parents BMI and other external factors were more accurate in predicting a child’s chance of ending up overweight or obese. Researchers found that the top 20 percent of children predicted to have the highest risk make up 80 percent of obese children.
“All the data we use are well-known risk factors for childhood obesity, but this is the first time they have been used together to predict from the time of birth the likelihood of a child becoming obese,” said Philippe Froguel, PhD, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. Froguel, who led the study, also emphasized the importance of obesity prevention.
“Once a young child becomes obese, it’s difficult for them to lose weight, so prevention is the best strategy, and it has to begin as early as possible,” he explained. “Unfortunately, public prevention campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children. Teaching parents about the dangers of over-feeding and bad nutritional habits at a young age would be much more effective.”
Physical activity habits are one of the biggest struggles in preventing childhood obesity. While over 50 percent of children used to walk or ride bikes to school, now less than 15 percent do. Few children get in the recommended one hour of daily physical activity.
The calculator is not accurate in every case, however, since in 1 in 10 cases, obesity is caused by rare genetic mutations that affect regular appetite. Over the next several years, researchers hope that tests for these mutations will become more widely available.