Early markers of adult obesity: a review

Obes Rev. 2012 Apr;13(4):347-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00965.x. Epub 2011 Dec 16.


The purpose of this review was to evaluate factors in early childhood (≤5 years of age) that are the most significant predictors of the development of obesity in adulthood. Factors of interest included exposures/insults in the prenatal period, infancy and early childhood, as well as other socio-demographic variables such as socioeconomic status (SES) or birth place that could impact all three time periods. An extensive electronic and systematic search initially resulted in 8,880 citations, after duplicates were removed. Specific inclusion and exclusion criteria were set, and following two screening processes, 135 studies were retained for detailed abstraction and analysis. A total of 42 variables were associated with obesity in adulthood; however, of these, only seven variables may be considered as potential early markers of obesity based on the reported associations. Possible early markers of obesity included maternal smoking and maternal weight gain during pregnancy. Probable early markers of obesity included maternal body mass index, childhood growth patterns (early rapid growth and early adiposity rebound), childhood obesity and father's employment (a proxy measure for SES in many studies). Health promotion programmes/agencies should consider these factors as reasonable targets to reduce the risk of adult obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Weight Gain / physiology