Influences on Child Eating and Weight Development From a Behavioral Genetics Perspective

Tanja V. E. Kral, PhD; Myles S. Faith, PhD


J Pediatr Psychol. 2009;34(6):596-605. 

In This Article

Parental Obesity Status Predicts Child Overweight Status: The Familial Association

"Obesity in one or both parents probably influences the risk of obesity in their offspring because of shared genes or environmental factors within families" (Whitaker, Wright, Pepe, Seidel, & Dietz, 1997). The notion that "obesity runs in families" has been supported by cross sectional and longitudinal studies (Gibson et al., 2007; Maffeis, Talamini, & Tato, 1998; Schaefer-Graf et al., 2005; Wang, Patterson, & Hills, 2002; Whitaker et al., 1997). These studies provided evidence that parental overweight (defined as a BMI ≥25 kg/m2) and obesity (defined as a BMI ≥30 kg/m2) are significant risk factors for overweight in their offspring. Data from two cross sectional studies showed that parental overweight or obesity was an independent risk factor for childhood obesity (Wang et al., 2002) and that maternal BMI, in particular, was a significant predictor of BMI z-scores in children ages 6-13 years (Gibson et al., 2007). Data from several longitudinal studies confirmed these findings and showed that children of obese parents were at increased risk for developing obesity later in their life (Maffeis et al., 1998; Schaefer-Graf et al., 2005; Whitaker et al., 1997). For example, Whitaker and colleagues (1997) showed that after 6 years of age, the probability of a child becoming an obese adult exceeded 50% for obese children, as compared with ~10% for nonobese children. In addition, results showed that the risk of adult obesity was significantly greater if either the child's mother or father was obese (Table I). That is, parental obesity more than doubled the risk for children, obese or nonobese, to become obese adults. This risk especially applied to children who were under 10 years of age. The authors note that among nonobese 1- and 2-year-olds, those with at least one obese parent had a greater chance of being obese as adults compared to those without an obese parent (28% vs. 10%). Among obese 3- to 5-year-olds, the chance of developing adult obesity increased from 24% if neither parent was obese to 62% if at least one parent was obese (Whitaker et al., 1997).


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