A new formula may be able to predict a child's risk of obesity as soon as they are born, researchers say.
The formula estimates the child's obesity risk based on his or her birth weight, the body mass index of the parents, the number of people in the household, the mother's professional status and whether she smoked during pregnancy.
The researchers said they originally wanted to find a way to predict obesity risk based on children's genes. But they found that these other, non-genetic factors were enough to predict which children would become obese.
"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," said study researcher Philippe Froguel, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.
The researchers have created an online calculator that uses the formula, and they it will be used to identify infants at high risk, and help families take steps to prevent their children from putting on too much weight.
The formula is based on a study of 4,000 children born in Finland that began in 1986, and was further validated using data from studies in Italy and the United States.
"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.
However, the calculator provides only an estimate of a child's obesity risk. Other factors, including a child's diet and physical activity, are known to impact obesity risk and were not included in the calculator.
Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and exercise, can lower the risk of becoming obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A study that describes the formula is published today (Nov. 28) in the journal PLOS ONE.
Pass it on: A new formula estimates a child's risk of obesity.