Our aim with this study was to assist clinicians by estimating the predictive value of earlier levels of BMI status on later risk of overweight and obesity during the middle childhood and early adolescent years.
We present growth data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a longitudinal sample of 1042 healthy US children in 10 locations. Born in 1991, their growth reflects the secular trend of increasing overweight/obesity in the population. Height and weight of participating children in the study were measured at 7 time points. We examined odds ratios for overweight and obesity at age 12 years comparing the frequency with which children did versus did not reach specific BMI percentiles in the preschool- and elementary-age periods. To explore the question of whether and when earlier BMI was predictive of weight status at age 12 years, we used logistic regression to obtain the predicted probabilities of being overweight or obese (BMI > or = 85%) at 12 years old on the basis of earlier BMI.
Persistence of obesity is apparent for both the preschool and elementary school period. Children who were ever overweight (> 85th percentile), that is, > or = 1 time at ages 24, 36, or 54 months during the preschool period were > 5 times as likely to be overweight at age 12 years than those who were below the 85th percentile for BMI at all 3 of the preschool ages. During the elementary school period, ages 7, 9, and 11 years, the more times a child was overweight, the greater the odds of being overweight at age 12 years relative to a child who was never overweight. Sixty percent of children who were overweight at any time during the preschool period and 80% of children who were overweight at any time during the elementary period were overweight at age 12 years. Follow-up calculations showed that 2 in 5 children whose BMIs were > or = 50th percentile by age 3 years were overweight at age 12 years. No children who were < 50th percentile for BMI at all points during elementary school were overweight at age 12 years. Children who have higher range BMIs earlier, but not at the 85th percentile, are also more likely to be overweight at age 12 years. Even at time points before and including age 9 years, children whose BMIs are between the 75th and 85th percentile have an approximately 40% to 50% chance of being overweight at age 12 years. Children at 54 months old whose BMIs are between the 50th and 75th percentile are 4 times more likely to be overweight at age 12 years than their contemporaries who are < 50th percentile, and those whose BMIs are between the 75th and 85th percentile are > 6 times more likely to be overweight at age 12 years than those < 50th percentile.
The data from this study indicate that children with BMIs > 85th percentile, as well as with BMIs in the high reference range are more likely than children whose BMI is < 50th percentile to continue to gain weight and reach overweight status by adolescence. Pediatricians can be confident in counseling parents to begin to address the at-risk child's eating and activity patterns rather than delaying in hopes that overweight and the patterns that support it will resolve themselves in due course. Identifying children at risk for adolescent obesity provides physicians with an opportunity for earlier intervention with the goal of limiting the progression of abnormal weight gain that results in the development of obesity-related morbidity.