Rapid Early Infancy Weight Gain Linked to Childhood Obesity in Study of Sibling Pairs

03/5/2004

PHILADELPHIA, March 5 /PRNewswire/ -- Infancy may be a critical period for establishing weight patterns later in childhood. Children who gain weight rapidly during their first four months are more likely to be overweight at age seven, say researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania who studied pairs of siblings. The research team presented their findings today at the American Heart Association's Conference on Cardiovascular Disease, Epidemiology and Prevention in San Francisco, Calif.

The research on sibling pairs reinforces previous work by the researchers showing an association between rapid weight gain in infancy and childhood obesity. The researchers found that a sibling with greater weight gain in infancy was significantly more likely to be overweight or obese at age seven, compared to a sibling with moderate weight gain in infancy. This effect was independent of the common household and genetic influences shared by the siblings.

The study looked at 1,850 pairs of full-term siblings who were part of the
Collaborative Perinatal Project. The researchers observed weight gain during
the first four months of life, compared to the child's weight at age seven. The authors used the presently recommended definition for overweight status -- a sex-specific body mass index that is greater than 95 percent of the U.S. population at any given age. Rapid infancy weight gain is a pattern of weight gain that exceeds average patterns of growth during infancy. For example, in this study, those who gained more than 8 to 10 pounds between birth and age four months had a 6 percent risk of becoming obese at age 7 years, compared to 3 percent of those who gained less. The average weight gain in the first four months of life was about 6 to 8 pounds.

The study found that among families a sibling with greater weight gain in infancy was more likely to be overweight or obese than a sibling with moderate weight gain. This was true for same-sex and opposite-sex siblings, as well as for Caucasian and African-American children.

"These findings support the hypothesis that early infancy is a critical period when nutritional or other modifiable factors may partially contribute to the development of childhood obesity," said Nicolas Stettler, M.D., M.S.C.E., a nutrition specialist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"This may have important implications for prevention during critical periods in early life. We will be investigating further, as it is premature to make recommendations for prevention."

Dr. Stettler's earlier research found that rapid weight gain during the first four months of life was significantly associated with an increased risk of being overweight at age seven, regardless of birth weight and weight at one year of age.

Myles S. Faith, Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was a co-author of this study.

Founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is ranked in 2003 as the best pediatric hospital in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and Child magazines. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children's Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country, ranking second in National Institutes of Health funding among children's hospitals. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 430-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents from before birth through age 19. Children's Hospital operates the largest pediatric healthcare system in the U.S. with more than 40 locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and
Delaware.

CONTACT: Joey Marie McCool, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia,
+1-267-426-6070, McCool@email.chop.edu.