Childhood obesity risk factors and interventions examined

16 March 2016
Fat baby

Two systemic reviews of childhood obesity research have concluded that the first 1,000 days is a crucial time for obesity development and, therefore interventions to prevent the disorder.

The reviews published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examined papers published between 1980 and 2014 which identified risks and interventions for childhood obesity in the first 1000 days.

They identified key risk factors for childhood obesity and concluded that interventions in the first 1,000 days may have the “greatest preventive effect”, but noted that very few effective interventions currently exist.

The first paper, Risk factors for childhood obesity in the first 1,000 days: a systemic review, pulled together key risk factors for childhood obesity identified in research over the past 30 years.

Key risk factors included:

  • Higher maternal pre-pregnancy BMI
  • Prenatal tobacco exposure
  • Maternal excess gestational weight gain
  • High infant birth weight
  • Accelerated infant weight gain.

The review also noted that a smaller number of studies had also identified the following as potential risk factors for childhood obesity: 

  • Gestational diabetes
  • Child care attendance
  • Low strength of maternal–infant relationship,
  • Curtailed infant sleep
  • Inappropriate bottle use
  • Introduction of solid food intake before age 4 months
  • Infant antibiotic exposure.

The authors concluded that, “Targeting healthy pre-conception weight and gestational weight gain, tobacco avoidance, and healthy infant weight gain with adherence to current infancy nutrition and sleep recommendations shows promise for childhood obesity prevention.”

The next review, Interventions for childhood obesity in the first 1,000 days: a systemic review, looked at interventions focused on individual or family level behaviour change.

These involved interventions including home visits, individual counselling or group sessions, supplementation and using a hydrolysed protein formula.

The authors noted that of those intervention studies which were completed, only seven demonstrated a beneficial effect on children’s growth status. 

These interventions focused on individual or family-level behaviour changes through counselling in a clinical setting, at-home visits or community visits, while two interventions used hydrolysed protein formula.

However, the authors noted that in early life, most interventions focus on individual-level diet and activity behaviours, rather than trying to change the social context that gives rise to these behaviours, such as government policies (e.g., food subsidies) and private sector practices (e.g., fast-food marketing).

They say more focus will be needed to address these societal issues in order to better address obesity in future.

“Future early-life intervention designs for prevention of obesity will need to concurrently address multiple obesity risk factors across several levels of influence and a variety of social sectors, guided by an appropriate conceptual framework,” they say.

Click these links to read Risk factors for childhood obesity in the first 1000 days: a systemic review and Interventions for childhood obesity in the first 1,000 days: a systemic review.