Experimental Charts May Predict Children's Risk of Obesity in Adulthood
Jan. 6, 2000 (Los Angeles) -- What are a child's chances of being an
overweight adult? Researchers in Hong Kong have developed a set of tables and
charts to answer that question, but U.S. experts consulted by WebMD maintain
that the value of the information is dubious.
In their paper, published in the current issue of Pediatric Research,
researchers Qing He and Johan Karlberg of the University of Hong Kong studied
more than 3,600 Swedish children by using approximately 14 height and weight
measurements over the first 18 years of the children's lives. The investigators
then used this information, factoring in the age of each child, to generate
charts showing the probability that the child would be overweight by age 18. To
do this they calculated each child's body mass index (BMI), which is based on
the appropriate weight for a person's height, at any given age.
The researchers make an "interesting observation that puts numbers on
what we've observed in the past: that the more severe the problem [of obesity]
at any age, the more likely it is to persist," says William Dietz, MD, PhD,
director of the CDC's division of nutrition and physical activity and an
authority on childhood obesity. "But I don't think it will change the way
we treat overweight children."
The notion that the heavier a child is early on, the more likely he or she
is to be overweight later in life is "common sense," adds Joyce
Barnett, RD, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of
Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She tells WebMD that if the tables
are used inappropriately, "I would be concerned that someone would get
labeled as being at risk [of becoming obese] and might develop an eating
disorder." Neither Dietz nor Barnett was involved in the study.
Both experts point out that even for the heaviest children, the risk of
becoming an overweight adult was 60%, so, as Barnett says, 40% of those
children will not become overweight. "It is not clear that these tables
predict obesity better than family history, socioeconomic status, or a
constellation of other factors," Dietz tells WebMD.
Barnett concurs, saying, "I would think that to evaluate a child over
time, in the context of their family eating and exercise habits, instead of
just predicting their statistical chances of becoming obese, would be more
meaningful and valuable." Maintaining a healthy weight should be a family
affair, she warns, saying, "To target a child, you must target the whole
family -- exercise is especially important to help a young child achieve and
maintain a healthy weight."
- A group of researchers has developed a set of tables and charts that can
predict obesity in adulthood, based on a child's age and BMI.
- The more severe obesity is at any age, the more likely it will persist, but
40% of the heaviest children will not grow up to be obese adults.
- These predictive charts will probably not change the way obesity is
currently treated in children.