Big kids are getting too big

The epidemic of obesity in young children has been far worse in the tallest, fastest growing young children, according to new research published in The International Journal of Obesity today (1 August 2006).

Researchers led by The University of Manchester say that faster-growing children might be especially vulnerable to the fattening effects of the 'obesogenic environment,' that is causing society to get fatter.

Lead researcher Dr Iain Buchan, Director and Senior Lecturer in Public Health Informatics at the Northwest Institute for Bio-Health Informatics at Manchester said: "Our study shows that the UK needs to change its eating and exercise habits. The more children eat, the more they show the effects of what we are offering them basically far too much unhealthy food and far too little chance to exercise.

"The largest increase in body mass index (BMI) in our study occurred in the tallest children, while that for the smallest hardly changed. Tall stature has therefore become important for child obesity. It shows a drive to adiposity (fatness) in young children involving both growth and appetite, with fast-growing and hungrier children more exposed to the obesogenic environment."

The team, which also includes Great Ormond Street Hospital's Institute of Child Health and The University of Liverpool, surveyed the weights of 50,000 three-year-olds from the Wirral (where BMI has been rising for 16 years) from 1988 to 2003.

They found that mean BMI rose by 0.7 kg/m2 while mean height fell by 0.5cm. Over the same period the weight-height correlation rose from 0.59 to 0.71 as the BMI of taller children rose.

Among the shortest 10% of the children mean BMI rose by 0.12 kg/m2, as against 1.38 kg/m2 among the tallest 10% - a 12-fold difference. Adjustment for age, sex, birth-weight, seasonality and deprivation did not alter their findings.

Dr Buchan added: "We have shown a strong relationship between child growth and obesity. The next research challenge is to work out exactly how this happens.

"We are looking at some deeper relationships between child growth and obesity with the data we have. Beyond this new data are required.

"One area in particular that needs more study is very early feeding. Animal studies show that obesity might be prevented permanently by reducing the amount of calories consumed by young in the first few weeks of life - exploring whether or not this is a safe and effective approach to preventing obesity in humans needs careful research."

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For more information, to get a copy of the paper or arrange an interview with Dr Iain Buchan contact Media Relations Officers Mikaela Sitford or Jo Nightingale on 0161 275 2111 or 8156.

The University of Manchester is Britain's largest single-site university with 36,000 students, 4,500 academic and research staff and 500 degree courses. It has an exceptional record of generating and sharing new ideas and innovations. The University's total expenditure on research in 2003/2004 was 269.5 million and the quality, breadth and volume of research activity are unparalleled in the UK, as indicated in the results of the independent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

The Institute of Child Health is part of University College London. With Great Ormond Street Hospital, it forms the largest centre for paediatric research outside the United States and a centre of excellence in training and research. ICH is rated 5*A for research, the highest rating possible and one of only four clinical institutions to achieve this rating.

The University of Liverpool is one of the UK's leading research institutions. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than 90 million annually.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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