Recent findings suggest that poorer children have triple the risk of being obese, so researchers aimed to identify the link between the two. The researchers used data from nearly 20,000 families across the UK and measured information from children at ages five and 11.
At age five, children had double the risk of being obese compared to their peers – those in the richest categories. By age 11 the risk tripled for poorer children, with 7.9 percent of the poorest children being obese compared to 2.9 percent of the richest.
Environmental factors examined to help determine cause and effect were mothers who smoked during pregnancy, how long mothers breastfed for, and if children were on solid food within the first four months of life. They also factored in the mother’s own weight or obese status. Senior author, Professor Yvonne Kelly, explained that, “intervening in the early years when the family environment has more profound influences on children’s healthy development has the potential to be particularly effective.”
The researchers also looked at physical behaviors, such as frequency of sports or exercise, active play with a parent, hours spent watching TV or being on the computer, and the time children went to bed. Dietary habits, too, were compared: if breakfast was skipped and fruit and sweetened beverage consumption.
Professor Kelly added, “The ‘structural’ causes of socioeconomic inequalities have to be addressed along with tackling ‘inherited’ obesity via lifestyle factors that tend to go with lower incomes. Early intervention with parents clearly has huge potential. And evidence from our work suggests that this should start before birth or even conception.”
The study found that playing sports at least three times a week was a major factor in weight, along with what time the children went to bed. Maternal smoking and the mother’s body mass index increased the risk of childhood obesity, and unhealthy lifestyle factors added an additional 20 percent increase in becoming obese.
The findings were published in The European Journal of Public Health.