Social disadvantage may prevent boys from escaping child obesity, study finds

4 May 2016

Obese boys from the least advantaged neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to lose weight over the course of primary school than their peers in better-off areas, according to new research.

Researchers from Teesside University looked at the body mass index (BMI) of more than 12,000 children taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) when they were age 5 and 11. The majority of children were a normal weight at both ages – just over 80 per cent at age 5, dropping to 70 per cent at age 11. However, the number who were obese or severely obese doubled during the same period – from 6 per cent at age 5, to 12 per cent at age 11.

Obese boys from most deprived areas had a 70 per cent chance of still being obese by age 11, compared to a 50 per cent chance for the heaviest boys from the least deprived neighbourhoods.

The opposite was true for girls. Obese girls from disadvantaged homes were less likely than their better off counterparts to remain obese over the same period.

The study’s authors said: “The consequences of childhood obesity can be severe, with an increased risk of developing conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

“[These findings] suggest that nondeprived obese boys have a protective effect against remaining obese in later childhood, perhaps mediated by environmental and psychological factors.

“There is some evidence that children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be overweight or obese adults. It will be interesting to explore what effect a longer follow-up period has on predicting whether children will become overweight or obese in later life, especially as adolescence is anticipated to be an important predictor of adult weight status.”

Further information

Predicting future weight status from measurements made in early childhood: a novel longitudinal approach applied to Millennium Cohort Study data‘ by E Mead, A M Batterham, G Atkinson and E J Ells was published in Nutrition and Diabetes in March 2016.

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