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Nov 29, 2012 by TAMMY McKENZIE
Online Calculator Can Accurately Predict A Child's Chances of Obesity At Birth

Body mass index (BMI) is a poor measurement and a controversially inaccurate indicator to assess health, however researchers have developed a simple formula they say can predict at birth a baby's likelihood of becoming obese in childhood.

The calculator (below) is based on a formula which estimates the child's obesity risk based on its birth weight, the body mass index of the parents, the number of people in the household, the mother's professional status and whether she smoked during pregnancy.

  • Maternal BMI
  • Paternal BMI
  • Number of household members
  • Maternal professional category Unskilled / apprentice / unemployed
    Skilled-non manual
    Professional / entrepreneur
  • Gestational smoking no
  • Birth weight (kg)

    : %

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    The researchers behind the study hope their prediction method will be used to identify infants at high risk and help families take steps to prevent their children from putting on too much weight. However, some critics say there is too much variability due to its reliance on body mass index as a critical variable in the formula.

    "The caveat here may well be the BMI calculation since there are known flaws due to individual variability and body composition," said exercise specialist Alessandro Melente. "This can grossly distort the actual predicted probability versus estimated and it would equally apply to both the maternal and paternal BMI."

    The problem is, BMI doesn't actually measure percentage body fat or lean muscle tissue and makes absolutely no distinction between either of them. Most of the inaccuracy related to the BMI measurement comes from its reliance on population studies without assessing individual diagnosis. Consequently, if a child has relatively muscular parents with low to even moderate body fat levels, their BMI status may be inappropriately considered obese and thus dramatically skew the predicted probability rendering the calculation useless for this subset of the population.

    Childhood obesity is a leading cause of early type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease, and is becoming more common in developed countries. The United States is on track to attain a 50% child obesity rate by 2040.

    The researchers developed the formula using data from a study set up in 1986 following 4000 children born in Finland. They initially investigated whether obesity risk could be assessed using genetic profiles, but the test they developed based on common genetic variations failed to make accurate predictions. Instead, they discovered that non-genetic information readily available at the time of birth was enough to predict which children would become obese. The formula proved accurate not just in the Finnish cohort, but in further tests using data from studies in Italy and the US.

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

    "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."

    The 20 percent of children predicted to have the highest risk at birth make up 80 percent of obese children. The researchers suggest that services such as dieticians 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," said 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."

    Although common genetic variants did not prove to be helpful for predicting childhood obesity, the researchers say about one in 10 cases of obesity are caused by rare mutations that seriously affect appetite regulation. Tests for these mutations could become available to doctors in the next few years as the cost of DNA sequencing technology falls.

    The Imperial researchers conducted the study in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Oulu, Finland; Harvard University in the US and the University of Verona, Italy. The work was funded by the Medical Research Council, Imperial College London, the University of Oulu and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    Here are some health calculators to help you assess your health status:
    - Body Composition (body caliper required)
    - Kids Body Composition (body caliper required)
    - Body Fat Percentage (estimate)
    - Waist-to-Height Ratio (WHtR)
    - Waist-Hip Ratio

    Tammy McKenzie is a certified personal trainer and fitness specialist with a speciality in women's fitness.


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