Can the Risk of Childhood Obesity Be Predicted at Birth?

childhood obesity

According to a study published in New Scientist, researchers believe that they may be able to predict the risk of childhood obesity the moment your baby emerges from the womb. The researchers looked at data from over 4,000 children born in Finland in 1986. They compared birth weight, mother’s weight, and other risk factors. From there, they developed their own algorithm and continued analyzing data on children born over the last decade. Approximately two-thirds of the babies that they predicted would suffer from weight problems actually did, leading them to believe that their formula is a success.

While the numbers definitely look impressive, the study neglects to take into account many other factors that contribute to childhood obesity.  It also can’t account for certain genetic factors that may be present, yet aren’t typically tested for at birth. While some feel that the study is still a great tool in helping prevent childhood obesity, others argue that it could actually cause more harm than good.

Pros of assessing childhood obesity risk factors at birth

  • Parents may be more vigilant in watching what their child eats and keeping an eye out for signs that the child is gaining weight at too fast a rate. They may also be more likely to encourage physical activity in their children to help combat childhood obesity risk factors.
  • Pediatricians may also be more on alert, monitoring weight more carefully and suggesting steps parents can take to minimize the risk factors. Children who are at an increased risk of developing childhood obesity may also be at an increased risk for other health issues, and pediatricians can hopefully head those off before they become a problem as well.

Cons of assessing the risks at birth

  • Parents of children who are assessed as having a low to no risk can become over-complacent, allowing their children to indulge in sweets and other unhealthy food more often because they  believe the children aren’t at risk for developing childhood obesity.
  • On the flip side, parents with children who score high on the risk assessment could go too far in the other direction- denying their children even occasional treats and obsessing over weight. While encouraging healthy eating is a good thing, taking it too far can cause children to suffer from anxiety and may even lead to eating disorders.
  • The fact that environmental factors, such as parent’s income ,  change throughout a child’s life and aren’t really accounted for adequately in the assessment makes it very difficult to track the validity of the study.

The bottom line is, while the study can definitely be beneficial in helping parents understand the risk factors and encouraging them to remain vigilant, such a test should not be relied upon as the only predictor of the chances of developing childhood obesity.

What do you think? If your doctor informed you that your newborn was at risk for developing childhood obesity, would it change your parenting style in any way?

10 thoughts on “Can the Risk of Childhood Obesity Be Predicted at Birth?”

  1. This is very interesting. I like to think that all parents are careful to ensure their children eat healthy diets and get plenty of exercise, but can see where this info might make some parents act more diligently.

  2. I really don’t like the idea of this at all. As a child of an obese mother, I just assumed I was destined to be fat. Unfortunately this lead to a self fulfilling prophecy, and I have struggled with my weight my whole life. If I had been born to an obese mother that had a healthy self esteem, I don’ think I would’ve been the same person. Rather than worrying about studies, I think we need to encourage to LOVE ourselves and to get active! Once we love ourselves, emotional eating goes down, and healthy habits seem to go up. Just MHO.

    1. That is such an excellent point! If you tell a parent that their child is destined to be overweight based on such a small amount of evidence, and parents pass that knowledge onto their child by saying “oh, the doctor said you could become overweight, you can’t eat this, you have to do that” etc and so on, that does kind of set the child up for a lot of self-esteem problems. Thank you for expressing that and bringing to light such a great point in the “cons” against the study!

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