Growth in early life and the development of obesity by age 9 years: Are there critical periods and a role for an early life stressor?

L. C. Giles, M. J. Whitrow, A. R. Rumbold, C. E. Davies, B. De Stavola, J. B. Pitcher, M. J. Davies, V. M. Moore

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Objective:Rapid growth, possibly occurring in critical periods in early life, may be important for the development of obesity. It is unknown whether this is influenced by postnatal exposures such as age-relevant sources of stress. Frequent house moves may be one such stressor. We aimed to examine if there is a period of growth in early life critical for the development of child obesity by age 9 years and assess the role of house moves in modifying any relationships between early life growth and obesity at age 9 years.Design:Prospective Australian birth cohort study.Subjects:In all, 392 children with serial body size measurements from birth to age 9 years.Methods:Standardized body mass index (z-BMI) was available for six time points (spanning birth to 3\ years), and the total number of house moves between birth and 3\ years. The outcomes considered were z-BMI and % body fat (%BF) at age 9 years. Linear regression models were used to estimate the effects of serial measurements of z-BMI and number of house moves on the outcomes.Results:Life-course plots showed that z-BMI at 3\ years was a statistically significant predictor of z-BMI at 9 years (β=0.80; standard error (s.e.), 0.04), whereas z-BMI at 9 months (β=-1.13; s.e., 0.40) and 3\ years (β=4.82; s.e., 0.42) were significant predictors of %BF at age 9 years. There were statistically significant interactions between the number of house moves and change in z-BMI between 9 and 12 months, such that ≥3 house moves in early life amplified the detrimental effects of earlier rapid growth on both body size and composition at age 9 years.Conclusion:In the absence of evidence for a single critical period, efforts to prevent overweight and obesity are required throughout childhood. In addition, modifiable postnatal stressors may exacerbate effects of early growth on obesity in later childhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-519
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013


  • early childhood
  • growth
  • residential mobility
  • stressors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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