Published April 2017
The Journal of Pediatrics

A high body mass index (BMI) in infancy can predict which children are likely to grow up with obesity, according to a breakthrough study led by investigators in the Division of Endocrinology.

The study was led by Allison Smego, MD, former endocrinology fellow; Jessica Woo, PhD, Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology; and Nancy Crimmins, MD, Endocrinology. They found that growth patterns that suggest a high risk of obesity can be detected as young as 4 to 6 months of age.

The project involved analyzing data from 783 participants of normal weight and 480 participants with severe obesity.

BMI, a tool that measures body fat based on height and weight, is not typically used on children younger than 2. But this study could inspire pediatricians to measure BMI sooner in life.

“Growth patterns in children who become severely obese by age 6 differ from normal weight children as early as 6 months of age,” says Smego, now a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Utah. “Based on these findings, we recommend that pediatricians routinely measure BMI at well-child assessments beginning at 6 months of age to focus additional counseling and education toward the families of these high-risk children.”

Once pediatricians identify high-risk infants with a BMI above the 85th percentile, they can help those families take steps toward a healthier lifestyle, she says. Early intervention is important because previous studies have shown that children who become overweight by kindergarten have a four-fold greater risk of progressing to obesity during adolescence.