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THURSDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Can a child's risk of becoming obese be predicted at birth?
British researchers report that a simple formula that uses the child's 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 showed which babies were at most risk.
The formula -- which is available as an online calculator -- proved accurate in tests in the United States, Finland and Italy, said the researchers at Imperial College London, who developed the method.
They believe it can be used to identify infants at high risk for childhood obesity. With the help of doctors and other health professionals, families could then take steps to prevent high-risk infants from putting on too much weight.
"This test takes very little time, it doesn't require any lab tests and it doesn't cost anything," study co-author Philippe Froguel said in a college news release.
"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," Froguel explained.
The researchers noted that the 20 percent of children predicted to have the highest risk at birth make up 80 percent of obese kids.
"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," said Froguel said. "Unfortunately, public prevention campaigns have been rather ineffective at preventing obesity in school-age children. Teaching parents about the dangers of over-feeding and bad nutritional habits at a young age would be much more effective."
The study was published Nov. 28 in the journal PLoS One.
Childhood obesity is a leading cause of early type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The obesity risk calculator can be found here.