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Algorithm may help identify babies at greater risk for obesity

Determining whether heavier-than-normal newborns who gain weight fast in their first six months of life could allow for early intervention, researchers say.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 4, 2016 at 12:04 PM

SAN FRANCISCO, March 4 (UPI) -- Children born heavier who gain weight fast are at a higher risk for obesity by age 5. An algorithm to determine this risk may help doctors mount an early intervention, researchers at the University of California San Francisco said.

Previous research has shown that once children become obese, it becomes increasingly likely they will stay that way throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

The World Health Organization predicts the number overweight children will double globally during the next decade. In the United States, the number of obese children has doubled and number of obese adolescents has quadrupled during the past 30 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

"Prognostic modeling, in which multiple risk factors are combined to estimate an individual's risk has been underutilized in childhood obesity prediction," Dr. Jacob Robson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah, said in a press release. "A childhood obesity risk score like the one we developed derived from the presence or absence of known prenatal and postnatal risk factors could provide a simple filter for directing low-risk infants to routine weight monitoring, while reserving intensive prevention resources for those at high risk."

For the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers recruited 201 Latina women while they were pregnant and followed their children from birth through age 5, measuring for 10 risk factors for obesity. Of the 166 children followed all the way through age 5, 32 percent met the criteria for childhood obesity.

After eliminating less significant factors from the algorithm, the researchers used maternal age, maternal prepregnancy BMI, child birth weight, six-month weight gain and breastfeeding to predict obesity. They found 94 percent of children with a risk score below the 25th percentile were in the normal weight range at age 5. However, 61 percent of children with a risk score above the 75th percentile were obese by age 5.

"Longitudinal data show that once a child becomes obese, it is likely to persist into adolescence and adulthood," said Dr. Janet Wojcicki, an associate professor at the University of California San Francisco. "Using the obesity-risk tool at the six-month visit would enable doctors to intervene early and most importantly prevent problems with weight and nutrition before they develop."

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