Understanding the pathways between prenatal and postnatal factors and overweight outcomes in early childhood: a pooled analysis of seven cohorts

Int J Obes (Lond). 2023 Jul;47(7):574-582. doi: 10.1038/s41366-023-01301-9. Epub 2023 Apr 3.


Background/objectives: Childhood overweight and obesity are influenced by a range of prenatal and postnatal factors. Few studies have explored the integrative pathways linking these factors and childhood overweight. This study aimed to elucidate the integrative pathways through which maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), infant birth weight, breastfeeding duration, and rapid weight gain (RWG) during infancy are associated with overweight outcomes in early childhood from ages 3 to 5 years.

Subjects/methods: Pooled data from seven Australian and New Zealand cohorts were used (n = 3572). Generalized structural equation modelling was used to examine direct and indirect associations of maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, infant birth weight, breastfeeding duration, and RWG during infancy with child overweight outcomes (BMI z-score and overweight status).

Results: Maternal pre-pregnancy BMI was directly associated with infant birth weight (β 0.01, 95%CI 0.01, 0.02), breastfeeding duration ≥6 months (OR 0.92, 95%CI 0.90, 0.93), child BMI z-score (β 0.03, 95%CI 0.03, 0.04) and overweight status (OR 1.07, 95%CI 1.06, 1.09) at ages 3-5 years. The association between maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and child overweight outcomes was partially mediated by infant birth weight, but not RWG. RWG in infancy exhibited the strongest direct association with child overweight outcomes (BMI z-score: β 0.72, 95%CI 0.65, 0.79; overweight status: OR 4.49, 95%CI 3.61, 5.59). Infant birth weight was implicated in the indirect pathways of maternal pre-pregnancy BMI with RWG in infancy, breastfeeding duration, and child overweight outcomes. The associations between breastfeeding duration (≥6 months) and lower child overweight outcomes were fully mediated by RWG in infancy.

Conclusions: Maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, infant birth weight, breastfeeding duration and RWG in infancy act in concert to influence early childhood overweight. Future overweight prevention interventions should target RWG in infancy, which showed the strongest association with childhood overweight; and maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, which was implicated in several pathways leading to childhood overweight.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Birth Weight
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Overweight* / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Gain