Design: Cross-sectional visit to a subsample of a population-based birth cohort.
Sample: A total of 1076 adolescents aged 14-16 y; 51% males.
Measurements: Weight, height, subscapular and triceps skinfolds were used for assessing overweight and obesity in adolescence, using WHO-recommended criteria. Anthropometric status in early life was measured through birthweight and through weight and length/height at average ages of 20 and 43 months.
Results: All analyses were adjusted for socioeconomic and maternal confounding factors. Birthweight and attained size (Z-scores of weight-for-age, height-for-age and weight-for-height) at 20 and 43 months were associated linearly and positively with overweight and obesity in adolescence. Four in each five obese adolescents were not overweight in childhood. Rapid weight gain, both between birth and 20 months, and between 20 and 43 months, was also associated with adolescent overweight and with obesity. Rapid height gain between 20 and 43 months was associated with overweight only. Most associations were stronger for boys.
Conclusions: Birth size, attained size in childhood and particularly growth velocity in early life were associated with increased prevalence of obesity and overweight in Brazilian adolescents. On the other hand, the vast majority of overweight or obese adolescents were not overweight children. Early interventions are undoubtedly important, but population-based strategies aimed at improving diets and physical activity appear to have greater long-term potential than measures targeted at overweight children.