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A way to predict obesity?

At risk of obesity or just big boned? A tool that calculates a baby’s risk of putting on health-threatening amounts of body fat may settle the matter at birth.

Anita Morandi at the University of Verona in Italy and colleagues analyzed data from 4,032 people born in Finland in 1986. They looked for factors that were predictive of obesity and found they included birth weight and parents’ body mass index (PLoS One).

They used the most predictive factors to derive a formula, which they tested on birth data from more than 2,500 Italian and U.S. children now between 4 and 12 years old. About 75 percent of the babies predicted from the data to be at the highest risk actually became obese. Morandi says the tool could identify children who may be “an appropriate target” for preventative measures.

There are caveats. For example, about 25 percent of babies will be incorrectly highlighted as being at risk. And the formula cannot account for new genetic mutations in the baby that increase obesity risk. Even if you predict obesity risk successfully, it’s not clear what measures should be taken, says epidemiologist Neil Thomas at the University of Birmingham, UK. Societal pressures make it difficult for people to make lifestyle changes, he says.

– Douglas Heaven, New Scientist Magazine