Formula for predicting childhood obesity warrants further evidence and cautious use

9 December 2012

Childhood obesity is increasing everywhere, including developing countries where the problem of malnutrition is skewed towards a persistent heavy magnitude of undernutrition associated with marco- as well as micronutrients. The proposition of a simple formula to predict such obesity by the use of few indicators at the child's birth [1]is a welcome step. The method's non-invasive nature, low cost and quick applicability enhances the likelihood that its use may spread.

However, there are concerns that deserve attention before widespread use of the suggested formula. First, parents may not be able to provide accurate information on their social indicators for a general hesitation to reveal or due to response or recall bias. Second, probing on sensitive issues such as personal details and social indicators of parents may encounter ethical problems in some societies such as the developing countries. Third, there remains a risk of interpretation of the formula in a way that it will be confused for a definitive answer to estimating childhood obesity.

The suggested mathematical formula stems from the research conducted in a developed country [2]. Overall, it makes sense as the child’s birth weight, parents’ health and social characteristics etc. have already been known to leave consequence on nutritional outcome of the child. Its applicability in other contexts will only be ensured after repeated usage in developing as well as developed countries. Comparison of the use and results of the formula among financially rich and poor people, "illiterate" and people with high academic degrees, etc. might help decide whether the formula can be used or a new technique is yet to be discovered. An interesting thing to know would be whether the formula can correctly predict children who will eventually develop undernutrition, and obesity at the same time - what is referred to as "thin-fat" babies.

1. Mayor S. Simple formula can predict risk of childhood obesity at birth, study says. BMJ 2012:345:e8166.
2. Morandi A, Meyre D, Lobbens S, Kleinman K, Kaakinen M, et al. (2012) Estimation of Newborn Risk for Child or Adolescent Obesity: Lessons from Longitudinal Birth Cohorts. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49919. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049919

Competing interests: None declared

Bhurtyal Ashok, Public health professional

People's Health Initiative (PHI), Sandol 9, Gokarneshwar VDC, Kathmandu, Nepal

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