Background: A body of literature suggests a metabolically healthy phenotype in individuals with obesity. Despite important clinical implications, the early origins of metabolically healthy obesity (MHO) have received little attention.
Objective: To assess the prevalence of MHO among the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 (NFBC1966) at 31 years of age, examine its determinants in early life taking into account the sex specificity.
Methods: We studied 3205 term-born cohort participants with data available for cardio-metabolic health outcomes at 31 years, and longitudinal height and weight data. After stratifying the population by sex, adult BMI and a strict definition of metabolic health (i.e., no risk factors meaning metabolic health), we obtained six groups. Repeated childhood height and weight measures were used to model early growth and early adiposity phenotypes. We employed marginal means adjusted for mother and child covariates including socio-economic status, birth weight and gestational-age, to compare differences between the groups.
Results: The prevalence of adult MHO was 6% in men and 13.5% in women. Differences in adult metabolic status were linked to alterations in BMI and age at adiposity peak in infancy (p < 0.0003 in men and p = 0.027 in women), and BMI and age at adiposity rebound (AR) (p < 0.0001 irrespective of sex). Compared to MHO, metabolically unhealthy obese (MUO) women were five and a half months younger at AR (p = 0.007) with a higher BMI while MUO men were four months older (p = 0.036) with no difference in BMI at AR.
Conclusion: At the time of AR, MHO women appeared to be older than their MUO counterparts while MHO men were younger. These original results support potential risk factors at the time of adiposity rebound linked to metabolic health in adulthood. These variations by sex warrant independent replication.