An In-Depth Look at Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity evaluated for risk factors, prevention techniques

(RxWiki News) With nearly one-third of all US children ages 2 to 19 currently overweight or obese, childhood obesity has become an epidemic. Fortunately, this condition is preventable in many cases.

Two recent articles published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine detailed the findings of multiple studies that looked at factors putting kids at risk for obesity, and interventions for preventing obesity in the first 1,000 days of a child's life.

"We know that obesity is notoriously difficult to treat, and evidence suggests that reducing risk factors for childhood obesity during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood could prevent children from becoming overweight in the first place," said senior author of both papers Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, in a press release. Dr. Taveras is the chief of general academic pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.

She continued, "While our reviews were able to identify a few early-lifetime risk factors and interventions that appear to have some effectiveness, the studies we found were quite limited in both the factors that were examined and the interventions that were tested."

The review on childhood obesity risk factors was led by Jennifer Woo Baidal, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. Baidal and team looked at 282 studies conducted between 1980 and 2014. Across these studies, several risk factors were consistently tied with children being overweight later in life. Study periods ranged from six months to 18 years.

Risk factors applying to mothers included mothers having a higher body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy, excess weight gain during pregnancy and smoking. Risk factors applying to children included high infant birth weight and rapid weight gain in infants.

Data regarding the impact of breastfeeding on obesity risk was inconsistent, despite being the main subject of several studies.

The review on childhood obesity interventions was led by Tiffany Blake-Lamb, MD, MSc an obstetrician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Blake-Lamb and team looked at 34 studies conducted between 1980 and 2014. These studies covered 26 intervention types.

Of the completed interventions, several appeared to be effective. These included behavioral adjustments through counseling (in a clinic setting, at home, in the community, or a combination of home and group visits). Interventions featuring the use of hydrolyzed protein formula appeared to minimize infant growth, while interventions involving enriched formulas were tied to a higher risk of childhood obesity.

"While most interventions that have been completed to date focus on individual behavioral change, it is clear that multiple and overlapping factors contribute to obesity risk," Dr. Blake-Lamb said.

Drs. Blake-Lamb and Taveras are currently working on an intervention study of their own, called "The First 1,000 Days."

These articles were published Feb. 22 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Eating Research Program funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.