Objective: Little research has addressed the relationships among infant temperament, eating styles and obesity risk. To address this gap, we tested whether infant temperament and eating patterns at the age of 1 year are associated with a greater increase in standardized weight status, and greater obesity risk at 6 years of age.
Design: A secondary, prospective analysis of the Colorado Adoption Study was conducted. The main predictor variables were infant temperament (that is, emotionality, activity, attention span-persistence, reaction to food and soothability) and eating domains (that is, reactivity to food, predictable appetite and distractability at mealtime) at the age of 1 year, along with the body mass index (BMI) of biological mothers. The outcome measures were child weight and height (length) assessed at ages 1 through 6 years, from which weight-for-length and BMI were computed along with the standardized indexes (z-scores) and percentiles. Overweight/obesity status was computed at each year as well.
Participants: A primarily White sample of 262 boys and 225 girls, assessed at ages 1 through 6 years, along with their mothers.
Results: Among boys, greater attention span-persistence was associated with reduced standardized weight status gain (β=-0.15, P<0.05) and reduced obesity risk (odds ratio (OR)=0.46, P=0.06). Among girls, greater soothability and negative reaction to food were associated with greater standardized weight status gain (β=0.19, P<0.01; and β=0.16, P<0.05, respectively) and increased obesity risk (OR=3.72, P=0.03; and OR=2.81, P=0.08, respectively). Biological mothers' obesity status predicted obesity risk in boys (OR=3.07, P=0.01) and girls (OR=5.94, P=0.03).
Conclusions: Male infants with less attention span, and female infants with greater soothability or a more negative food reaction, showed greater increases in standardized weight and were more likely to be overweight/obese at the age of 6 years. The role of infant temperament in pediatric obesity onset warrants greater research.