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Calculator predicts risk of obesity at birth

Simple formula can assess the likelihood of childhood obesity – and soon there'll be a smartphone app
By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
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30th November 2012 - Parents will soon be able to download a smart phone app that will allow them to work out whether their new baby is at risk of becoming obese later in childhood.

A team from Bradford say it could be available as early as next week.

For those who do not want to wait, an online calculator is already available which can do just the same job. It is the work of a separate team of researchers from Imperial College London.

They have developed a formula which takes into account the baby's birth weight together with the body mass index (BMI) of the parents, the number of people living at home, the mother's professional status and whether she smoked while pregnant.

The Imperial researchers hope their prediction calculator will alert parents where there is a risk of obesity in later life and allow them to take steps to stop their children piling on the pounds.

Diabetes and heart disease

Childhood obesity is a leading cause of disease, including Type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease. These are becoming more common in the UK and other developed countries. The NHS says that 17% of boys and 15% of girls in England aged two to 15 are now classified as obese.

"This test takes very little time, it doesn't require any lab tests and it doesn't cost anything," says Professor Philippe Froguel, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who led the study.

The researchers set out originally to test whether the risk of becoming obese could be assessed through genetics. However, they found that non-genetic information readily available at the time of birth was enough to predict whether an infant would become obese.

They went on to test this formula using data from Finland, Italy and the US. Their findings appear in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Professor Froguel continues in a statement: "All the data we use are well-known risk factors for childhood obesity; but this is the first time they have been used together to predict from the time of birth the likelihood of a child becoming obese."

Prevention strategies

The 20% of children predicted to have the highest risk at birth make up 80% of obese children, say the researchers. They suggest that services such as dietitians and psychologists could be offered to families with high-risk infants to help them prevent excessive weight gain.

"Once a young child becomes obese, it's difficult for them to lose weight, so prevention is the best strategy, and it has to begin as early as possible," says Professor Froguel. "Unfortunately, public prevention campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children. Teaching parents about the dangers of over-feeding and bad nutritional habits at a young age would be much more effective."

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