Parental link to obesity

April 24, 2007

Women who begin their menstrual periods before they are 11 years old are more likely to have children who also start puberty early and are more overweight than the children of mums who mature later. The finding is from a study of more than 6,000 children who participated in Bristol University’s ALSPAC study.

The research, led by Dr Ken Ong, a paediatric endocrinologist at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit and University of Cambridge, is published in Public Library of Science Medicine.

Along with colleagues in Bristol, the research team looked for links between a mother’s age at puberty, adult body size and obesity risk and her children’s growth and obesity risk. In the study, 6,009 children had growth and fat mass measurements taken at 9 years old. Detailed infancy and childhood growth data were also examined for a smaller group of 914 children.

Dr Ong’s team found that mothers who go through puberty early tend to be shorter and fatter than other mums and, on average, they give birth to children who grow rapidly during infancy but become overweight as children and start puberty earlier.

This growth pattern appears to be passed on from mother to child making it likely that it is due to genetic factors. Other possible causes are feeding patterns or behaviours that run in families. Identifying what these inter-generational factors actually are could help develop new ways of preventing and tackling obesity.

Dr Ken Ong explains: “Some children have a rapid ‘tempo of growth’, in that they may not be particularly tall as adults, but they reach their adult height sooner than other kids - they grow rapidly during childhood, mature faster and stop growing sooner. Paediatricians have long been aware that some children show this pattern of development around the time of adolescence. Now we know that this rapid growth pattern starts as soon as you’re born. In fact, most of the speedy growth takes place during infancy. Beyond links to early puberty, most importantly this growth pattern appears to lead to an increased risk of obesity that lasts from childhood through to adult life.”

He concludes: “Obesity is a major health problem, even in young children, and general public health strategies seem to be making little impact on the growing numbers of obese children. The current Department of Health and WHO recommendations for infant nutrition promote exclusive breast feeding and introduction of weaning foods at around 6 months old. Knowing that rapid infancy weight gain, early puberty and obesity run together in families may help us identify which children to best target our efforts at right from birth.”

Dr Ong’s ongoing research will follow-up the findings of this study by looking for specific genetic links to rapid early growth and development. The team will also assess the effect of different diets in preventing infants from becoming unhealthily overweight.

Source: University of Bristol

Explore further: Childhood obesity may contribute to later onset of puberty for boys

Related Stories

'Orchid children' bloom, wither in response to surroundings

January 31, 2011

( -- A UA-led study backs evidence that some children are more susceptible to adverse environmental factors than others. So-called "orchid children" bloom spectacularly in positive environments but often are at ...

Family conditions may affect when girls experience puberty

November 15, 2007

Early puberty in girls has been found to negatively affect these teenagers’ health in areas such as mood disorders, substance abuse, adolescent pregnancy, and cancers of the reproductive system. Given these findings, it ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.