(NaturalNews) A simple formula can calculate a newborn baby's risk of childhood obesity without the need for medical tests, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the world's wealthier countries - for example, more than 15 percent of all British children between the ages of two and 15 are now classified as obese. Childhood obesity is one of the major causes of early onset Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers - from Imperial College London,Harvard University, the University of Oulu, Finland; and the University of Verona, Italy - examined data from a study that followed 4,000 children born in Finland in 1986. First, the researchers looked for a correlation between childhood obesity and certain common genetic variants, but failed to find any such connection.
Then, the researchers sought to determine whether any non-genetic factors were predictive of childhood obesity - and found an incredibly strong correlation with a handful of risk factors. They used this data to construct an "obesity risk calculator," which is now available for free at: http://files-good.ibl.fr/childhood-obesity/. The equation turned out to be accurate not just for the children from the Finnish study, but also for children from other studies conducted in Italy and the United States.
Known risk factors
The formula combines several known risk factors for childhood obesity: infant birth weight, body mass index of both parents, household size, whether or not the mother smoked during pregnancy, and the nature of the mother's profession. It is so accurate that 80 percent of all obese children are in the 20 percent of the population that the equation calculates as having the highest risk.
"This test takes very little time, it doesn't require any lab tests and it doesn't cost anything," said lead researcher Philippe Froguel, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. "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."
10 percent of obese children suffer from rare mutations that interfere with their bodies' natural appetite regulation, the researchers said. As genetic screening becomes less expensive, these children could also be identified earlier.
The researchers hope that if at-risk children are identified earlier, parents can receive counseling from professionals such as dieticians and psychologists to help reduce their children's risk.
"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," Froguel said.
"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."
The study was funded by the Imperial College London, the U.K.'s Medical Research Council, the University of Oulu, and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.