A new European study finds a strong link between a family’s socioeconomic status and children’s body mass index (BMI).
The findings, published in the journal Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, show that BMI differences emerge in the preschool years and continue to widen across childhood and into early adolescence.
“This research shows that inequalities in health and life expectancy start early in life and are well established by age 5,” said senior author Dr. Richard Layte, a professor of sociology at Trinity College in Dublin. “Most children who are obese have a higher risk of being obese in adulthood with long-term health consequences.”
For the study, researchers from Trinity College analyzed data on height and weight from 41,399 children measured over time in three European countries — Ireland, the U.K., and Portugal — using the mother’s highest level of education as a marker of socio-economic position.
The findings show that while there were no differences in BMI between children grouped by their mothers’ education in infancy, differences in BMI emerged by pre-school age (3-5 years) with children from primary- and secondary-educated maternal backgrounds gaining body mass at a faster rate compared with children whose mothers had higher education levels. These differences continued to widen as the children aged in all three countries.
In general, the authors found that children whose mothers had the lowest educational levels were more likely to be overweight or obese at any age compared with children whose mothers had the highest levels of education.
This is a worrying trend as children who are obese in early life are more likely to maintain this status into adolescence and adulthood, increasing risk for chronic disease later in life.
“This study shows that children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds gain body mass more quickly than their more advantaged peers, are more likely to be overweight or obese from preschool age onwards, and are more likely to become obese if previously non-overweight,” said lead author Dr. Cathal McCrory, a research assistant professor in psychology at Trinity College.
“They are quite literally carrying a heavier burden of disease from much earlier in life. These findings reinforce the necessity of challenging the childhood obesity epidemic at early ages as these patterns are difficult to change once they have become entrenched. Urgent government action is now required to understand the material, social, and structural barriers that contribute to these stark socioeconomic differences in obesity risk.”
Source: Trinity College Dublin