Infants as young as two months old already exhibit growth patterns that can predict the child's weight by age 5 finds researchers.
"Almost from birth, we quickly saw this growth pattern emerge in our curves and growth charts for weight over height," Susan Ludington, the study's lead investigator and the Carl W. and Margaret David Walter Professor of Pediatric Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, said.
Analyzing well-child records, normal-weight babies with a body-mass index (BMI) in the 17 percentile were found to have plateaued at about two months and rarely deviated over the next five years, she said.
Overweight or obese babies crossed the 17 percentile many months later (about age 14 months) and continued an upward climb when BMI growth patterns were monitored.
The researchers found that, by age 5, normal-weight children developed differently from birth than those considered overweight, obese or severely obese.
The researchers suspect, based on prior research findings by others, how a mother ate during pregnancy might have contributed to a baby's hormones and the ability to satisfy a baby's hunger.
By graphing, a pattern emerged that found both girls and boys known to be obese at 5 begin to show significantly higher weight over height than normal weight babies as early as 2-4 months of age.
Because such patterns emerge before children generally start eating solid food, early life growth patterns may provide important information about a person's future health issues, Ludington said.
The researchers also questioned using the BMI index as a guide to growth, which is based on European babies primarily breast-fed in the first year. In the United States, many babies have only formula feedings.
These findings could potentially change the age at which obesity is typically diagnosed, which is now at or after age two.
The findings are published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.