Predictors of Developmental Patterns of Obesity in Young Children

Thomas G. O'Connor, Jason Williams, Clancy Blair, Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp, Lori Francis, Michael T. Willoughby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The current study characterizes longitudinal patterns in obesity in young children and their prediction from developmental programming and social determinant hypotheses. Materials and Methods: The data are based on the Family Life Project, a prospective longitudinal study of 1,292 families recruited from low-income, racially diverse, rural communities in Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Pre-natal, peri-natal, and post-natal risks for childhood obesity were collected from 2 months of age; in-person assessments of child growth were used to identity obesity on multiple occasions from 24 to 90 months of age. Results: Two major novel findings emerged. First, longitudinal analyses identified four distinct obesity development profiles: stable obesity, later-onset obesity, moderate/declining obesity, and non-obese; these groups had distinct risk profiles. Second, prediction analyses favored developmental programming explanations for obesity, including evidence even in early childhood that both low- and high birth weight was associated with stable obesity. There was no indication that pre- and peri-natal and post-natal factors predicted obesity differently in non-minority and minority children. Discussion: Factors derived from the developmental programming model of obesity overlapped with, but predicted early onset obesity independently from, risks associated with social determinant models of obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109
JournalFrontiers in Pediatrics
StatePublished - Mar 24 2020


  • birth weight
  • developmental programming
  • obesity
  • social determinants
  • socio-economic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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