Are there birth cohort effects in disparities in child obesity by maternal education?

Int J Obes (Lond). 2021 Mar;45(3):599-608. doi: 10.1038/s41366-020-00724-y. Epub 2020 Dec 18.


Background: Children belonging to the same birth cohort (i.e., born in the same year) experience shared exposure to a common obesity-related milieu during the critical early years of development-e.g., secular beliefs and feeding practices, adverse chemical exposures, food access and nutrition assistance policies-that set the stage for a shared trajectory of obesity as they mature. Fundamental cause theory suggests that inequitable distribution of recent efforts to stem the rise in child obesity may exacerbate cohort-based disparities over time.

Methods: Data were from electronic health records spanning 2007-2016 linked to birth records for children ages 2-19 years. We used hierarchical age-period-cohort models to investigate cohort effects on disparities in obesity related to maternal education. We hypothesized that maternal education-based disparities in prevalence of obesity would be larger among more recent birth cohorts.

Results: Sex-stratified models adjusted for race/ethnicity showed substantial obesity disparities by maternal education that were evident even at young ages: prevalence among children with maternal education < high school compared to maternal college degree was approximately three times as high among girls and twice as high among boys. For maternal education < high school, disparities compared to maternal college degree were higher in more recent birth cohorts. Among girls, this disparity cohort effect was evident at younger ages (at age 4, the disparity increased by 4 [0.1-8] percentage points per 5 birth years), while among boys it was larger at older ages (at age 16, the disparity increased by 7 [1-14] percentage points per 5 birth years).

Conclusions: There may be widening maternal education-based disparities in child obesity by birth cohort at some ages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Birth Cohort
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Effect
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult