Evidence gathers to show that rapid weight gain in infancy leads to obesity

07 November 2017
Big baby

There’s growing evidence for a strong association between rapid weight gain in infancy and the later development of obesity.

A comprehensive review of studies looking at a link has been published in Obesity Reviews.  It concludes that rapid weight gain in infancy is strongly associated with obesity and an increase in body fat.

The systemic review examined 17 studies and is the first to synthesise a range of studies looking at this association.

The researchers found that all the studies showed that rapid weight gain up to the age of two was associated with later obesity or adiposity.  Overall:

  • Children experiencing rapid weight gain in the first two years of life had 3.66 times greater odds of being overweight/obese later in life.

This is a substantially higher risk than has been previously reported in individual studies.

When the rapid weight gain occurs seems to matter.  The studies found that rapid weight gain in first year of life proved a greater risk for obesity.

The researchers say this that early infancy is a critical period for development of later obesity.

They point out that rapid weight gain is most likely to occur during infancy among low birth weight infants. These babies are more likely to have higher adrenal androgen levels, insulin resistance and central fat deposition which means they have a heighted vulnerability to weight gain

The researchers say: “Reducing the low birth weight incidence through prenatal maternal intervention may be a promising approach to combat obesity risk through lowering the incidence of postnatal rapid weight gain.”

However, they point out that the problem is not exclusive to low birth weight babies.  

They say early life nutrition has a more profound effects on body weight status that other periods of life.

Various studies showed there were differences among the children who experienced rapid weight gain:

  • Those who had been exclusively breastfed for four months had a lower percentage of body fat from ages 2 to 5 years than did those who had not been exclusively breastfed.
  • Those who were formula or mixed fed had greater weight gain from birth to age 1, 2 or 3 years as well as higher BMI at ages 1 to 5 years.

The researchers say that interventions designed to reduce infant rapid weight gain through early nutrition management may be a more feasible and practical approach for obesity prevention.

They say maternal factors such as body weight, smoking status, education and socioeconomic status are also important.

You can read the full study looking at rapid infant weight gain and later obesity here.