Risk factors for childhood obesity at age 5: analysis of the millennium cohort study

BMC Public Health. 2009 Dec 16:9:467. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-9-467.


Background: Weight at age 5 is a predictor for future health of the individual. This study examines risk factors for childhood obesity with a focus on ethnicity.

Methods: Data from the Millennium Cohort study were used. 17,561 singleton children of White/European (n = 15,062), Asian (n = 1,845) or African (n = 654) background were selected. Logistic regression and likelihood ratio tests were used to examine factors associated with obesity at age 5. All participants were interviewed in their own homes. The main exposures examined included; Birth weight, sedentary lifestyle, family health behaviours, ethnicity, education and income.

Results: Children with a sedentary lifestyle, large at birth, with high risk family health behaviours (overweight mothers, smoking near the child, missing breakfast) and from a family with low income or low educational attainment, were more likely to be obese regardless of ethnicity. Feeding solid food before 3 months was associated with obesity in higher income White/European families. Even when controlling for socioeconomic status, ethnic background is an important independent risk factor for childhood obesity [Odds ratio of obesity; was 1.7 (95%CI: 1.2-2.3) for Asian and 2.7 (95%CI: 1.9-3.9) for African children, compared to White/European]. The final adjusted model suggests that increasing income does not have a great impact on lowering obesity levels, but that higher academic qualifications are associated with lower obesity levels [Odds of obesity: 0.63 (95%CI: 0.52-0.77) if primary carer leaves school after age 16 compared at age 16].

Conclusions: Education of the primary carer is an important modifiable factor which can be targeted to address rising obesity levels in children. Interventions should be family centred supporting and showing people how they can implement lifestyle changes in their family.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asian People / statistics & numerical data
  • Black People / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Family Characteristics
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Style / ethnology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data