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Early adiposity rebound and the risk of adult obesity

Article by: R C WhitakerM S PepeJ A WrightK D SeidelW H Dietz


Objective: At 5 to 6 years of age, body fatness normally declines to a minimum, a point called adiposity rebound (AR), before increasing again into adulthood. We determined whether a younger age at AR was associated with an increased risk of adult obesity and whether this risk was independent of fatness at AR and parent obesity.

Design: A retrospective cohort study using lifelong height and weight measurements recorded in outpatient medical records.

Setting: Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound (GHC), a health maintenance organization based in Seattle, Washington.

Participants: All 390 GHC members (and their parents) born at GHC between January 1, 1965, and January 1, 1971, who had at least one recorded adult height and weight measurement plus two visits with recorded height and weight measurements in each of three age intervals: 1.5 to 4, 4 to 8, and 8 to 16 years.

Main outcome measures: We calculated the mean body mass index (BMI) of each subject during young adulthood (age 21 to 29 years) and the BMI of the parents when each subject was 1.5 years of age. Adult obesity was defined as a BMI >/=27.8 for males and >/=27. 3 for females. Curves were fit to each subject’s BMI values between ages 1.5 and 16 years, and the age and BMI at AR were calculated from these curves. Subjects were divided into tertiles of age at AR (early, middle, and late), BMI at AR, and parent BMI (heavy, medium, and lean).

Results: The mean age at AR was 5.5 years, and 15% of the cohort was obese in young adulthood. Adult obesity rates were higher in those with early versus late AR (25% vs 5%), those who were heavy versus lean at AR (24% vs 4%), those with heavy versus lean mothers (25% vs 5%), and those with heavy versus lean fathers (21% vs 5%). After adjusting for parent BMI and BMI at AR, the odds ratio for adult obesity associated with early versus late AR was 6.0 (95% CI, 1.3-26.6).

Conclusion: An early AR is associated with an increased risk of adult obesity independent of parent obesity and the BMI at AR. Future research should examine the biological and behavioral determinants of AR.

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