Skip to main content

18 May 2021

Preventable risks for obesity in 3-year-old children

New results from the UPBEAT study show that maternal and early-life modifiable risk factors are associated with higher measures of obesity and fatness in children at 3-years of age.

Child reaching for strawberries

Biological and environmental exposures from the very earliest stages of life - as an embryo, through pregnancy, into infancy and childhood - play a crucial role in a child’s development.

In the UK 25% of 4-year-old children have overweight or obesity, increasing to a third by the time the child enters senior school. Obesity established in early life has been shown to track into adolescence and adulthood, increasing the risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes in later life.

The UK Pregnancy Better Eating and Activity Trial (UPBEAT), a multi-centre UK-based mother-child cohort study run by the King’s Department of Women of Children’s Health, started recruiting pregnant women in 2009 and has this week published its latest paper.

Dr Kathryn Dalrymple, author of the study said:

I am particularly interested in the influence of the early-life environment on the development of childhood obesity. Our study has demonstrated the cumulative contribution of maternal and early-life modifiable exposures on childhood obesity risk. Importantly, the findings from this study have the potential to be translated into public health initiatives which aim to reduce the prevalence of obesity in the early years.

Dr Kathryn Dalrymple

Women were recruited to the study in early pregnancy and researchers periodically collected data on them and their children up to 3 years of age. All mothers had obesity pre-conceptionally, were from ethnically diverse groups and were predominantly from socially deprived backgrounds.

The data from this study has shown that exposure of the developing child to five maternal and early-life modifiable factors - higher maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index, excessive gestational weight gain, short or no breastfeeding duration and unhealthy eating habits in the child - are associated with higher measures of obesity and fatness at 3 years of age. These included a higher BMI and bigger arm circumference.

Professor Lucilla Poston, lead Investigator of the UPBEAT study said:

This research has a really important public health message as it suggests that focussing on just five preventable risk factors before during and after pregnancy could help prevent childhood obesity.

Professor Lucilla Poston

The authors of the paper are hoping to follow-up on the UPBEAT children again between the ages of 8 and 10 years old. Read more in Modifiable early life exposures associated with adiposity and obesity in 3-year old children born to mothers with obesity.

In this story

Lucilla Poston

Professor of Maternal & Fetal Health