Obesity in childhood carries a wide range of physical, psychological and social disbenefits and also increases the risk of adult obesity with its well-recognised, enhanced risk of several common complex diseases as well as adverse socioeconomic and psychosocial sequelae. Understanding the tracking of the two key modifiable behaviours, food consumption and physical activity, between childhood and adulthood may illuminate the childhood determinants of adult obesity and contribute to the development of effective interventions. We performed a systematic review of the available literature on tracking of both physical activity and of dietary intake between childhood and adulthood by searching MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PSYCInfo, Google and Google Scholar. For inclusion, studies had to report baseline measurements when the children were less than, or equal to, 18 years and to report follow-up for at least 5 years to any age over 18 years. After removal of duplicates, 9625 search hits were screened by title and/or abstract and 79 potentially relevant papers were identified and full papers obtained. In total 39 papers were included in this analysis. Of these, 11 papers (from 5 studies) reported data on tracking of diet from childhood to adulthood and 28 papers (from 16 studies) reported data on tracking of physical activity or inactivity. Despite the diversity of study design and measurement methodology, we found evidence of tracking of both physical activity and of diet between childhood and adulthood with estimates of strength of tracking of a similar order for both behaviours. Because of the inherent methodological difficulties in quantifying habitual behaviour, it is likely that the reported estimates of strength of tracking under-estimate the true degree of tracking. The evidence of tracking reported here may give greater impetus to the development of interventions aimed to prevent the persistence of obesity from childhood into adulthood and its attendant adverse socioeconomic, psychosocial and health sequelae.
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