Study pinpoints key indicators you're likely to be obese

  • 23/03/2018

Being male, being born into a single-parent family and having parents with larger body size are among childhood predictors of being overweight or obese as adults in New Zealand, researchers have found.

So, too, are having limited or no breastfeeding, higher early infant growth and exposure to severe sexual abuse.

International literature has identified a number of childhood determinants of adult weight, but less is known about the New Zealand context.

The Otago University research, published in the NZ Medical Journal, is based on 980 participants in the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a longitudinal study of children born in the city in 1977.

At ages 30 and 35, about a third were overweight and one-fifth were obese.

The Christchurch study's director, Professor John Horwood, says the findings of the Otago University research, in which he was involved, aren't particularly surprising and are in line with international evidence.

He says they confirm that risk of obesity is related to a complex mix of factors reflecting biological endowment, socio-economic disadvantage, early diet and adverse childhood experience.

"Individually, the identified risk factors have a relatively modest impact on adult weight, but jointly they can add up to something that is substantial," he said.

"So, if you have three or more risk factors, there is likely to be an associated increased risk of obesity."

Most of the factors - such as gender, parental BMI and exposure to childhood sexual abuse - were not amenable to change in the context of obesity prevention, the researchers said.

Exceptions were the findings for longer duration of breastfeeding and weight gain in infancy.

This suggested that strategies such promoting breastfeeding, monitoring the use of formula and limiting the early introduction of solids could play key roles in any strategy to reduce obesity.

NZN