High Body Mass Index in Infancy May Predict Severe Obesity in Early Childhood

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Abstract

Objective

To characterize growth trajectories of children who develop severe obesity by age 6 years and identify clinical thresholds for detection of high-risk children before the onset of obesity.

Study design

Two lean (body mass index [BMI] 5th to ≤75th percentile) and 2 severely obese (BMI ≥99th percentile) groups were selected from populations treated at pediatric referral and primary care clinics. A population-based cohort was used to validate the utility of identified risk thresholds. Repeated-measures mixed modeling and logistic regression were used for analysis.

Results

A total of 783 participants of normal weight and 480 participants with severe obesity were included in the initial study. BMI differed significantly between the severely obese and normal-weight cohorts by age 4 months (P < .001), at 1 year before the median age at onset of obesity. A cutoff of the World Health Organization (WHO) 85th percentile for BMI at 6, 12, and 18 months was a strong predictor of severe obesity by age 6 years (sensitivity, 51%-95%; specificity, 95%). This BMI threshold was validated in a second independent cohort (n = 2649), with a sensitivity of 33%-77% and a specificity of 74%-87%. A BMI ≥85th percentile in infancy increases the risk of severe obesity by age 6 years by 2.5-fold and the risk of clinical obesity by age 6 years by 3-fold.

Conclusions

BMI trajectories in children who develop severe obesity by age 6 years differ from those in children who remain at normal weight by age 4-6 months, before the onset of obesity. Infants with a WHO BMI ≥85th percentile are at increased risk for developing severe obesity by age 6 years.

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