Growth in early life and the development of obesity by age 9 years: are there critical periods and a role for an early life stressor?

Giles, LC; Whitrow, MJ; Rumbold, AR; Davies, CE; de Stavola, B; Pitcher, JB; Davies, MJ; Moore, VM; (2013) Growth in early life and the development of obesity by age 9 years: are there critical periods and a role for an early life stressor? Int J Obes (Lond), 37 (4). pp. 513-9. ISSN 1476-5497 DOI:

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OBJECTIVE Rapid growth, possibly occurring in critical periods in early life, may be important for the development of obesity. It is unknown whether this is influenced by postnatal exposures such as age-relevant sources of stress. Frequent house moves may be one such stressor. We aimed to examine if there is a period of growth in early life critical for the development of child obesity by age 9 years and assess the role of house moves in modifying any relationships between early life growth and obesity at age 9 years. DESIGN Prospective Australian birth cohort study. SUBJECTS In all, 392 children with serial body size measurements from birth to age 9 years. METHODS Standardized body mass index (z-BMI) was available for six time points (spanning birth to 3½ years), and the total number of house moves between birth and 3½ years. The outcomes considered were z-BMI and % body fat (%BF) at age 9 years. Linear regression models were used to estimate the effects of serial measurements of z-BMI and number of house moves on the outcomes. RESULTS Life-course plots showed that z-BMI at 3½ years was a statistically significant predictor of z-BMI at 9 years (β=0.80; standard error (s.e.), 0.04), whereas z-BMI at 9 months (β=-1.13; s.e., 0.40) and 3½ years (β=4.82; s.e., 0.42) were significant predictors of %BF at age 9 years. There were statistically significant interactions between the number of house moves and change in z-BMI between 9 and 12 months, such that ≥ 3 house moves in early life amplified the detrimental effects of earlier rapid growth on both body size and composition at age 9 years. CONCLUSION In the absence of evidence for a single critical period, efforts to prevent overweight and obesity are required throughout childhood. In addition, modifiable postnatal stressors may exacerbate effects of early growth on obesity in later childhood.

Item Type: Article
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health > Dept of Medical Statistics
Research Centre: Centre for Global Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
PubMed ID: 23318715
Web of Science ID: 317410300007


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