July 30, 2013
2 min read

New model predicted likelihood of childhood obesity

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Researchers have developed a mathematical model that they said predicts how energy excess affects obesity and calculates potential interventions needed to halt the likelihood of childhood obesity.

“One of the most disconcerting aspects of the global obesity epidemic is the high prevalence of childhood obesity, which carries both health and economic consequences. The model we have developed is a substantial step forward in fighting this rising tide of childhood obesity. It allows us to accurately predict how a child’s energy intake affects his or her likelihood of becoming overweight or obese,” Kevin D. Hall, PhD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at NIH, said in a press release.

According to data, Hall and colleagues simulated a gradual increase in energy intake of approximately 1,200 kcal per day in boys and 900 kcal per day in girls among children (n=292) aged 5 to 18 years.

Kevin D. Hall, PhD 

Kevin D. Hall

The model predicted that children require more energy intake compared with adults to develop excess weight, researchers wrote. It is possible that some children may “outgrow” obesity without losing weight. However, this is more prevalent in boys compared with girls.

“Although the model doesn’t apply perfectly to all children — for instance, those who start adolescence late, or who undergo particularly rapid weight gain — it provides an accurate representation of the average effect of reducing or increasing calorie intake on the weight of children,” Hall said in the release. “Our future research will adapt the model to individual children as well as study the effects of increasing physical activity along with diet changes.”

In a related commentary, Claudio Maffeis, MD, of the department of life and reproductive sciences at the University of Verona, Italy, wrote that the model demonstrates a precise evaluation of energy intake. However, nutritional education is warranted to improve childhood obesity, he added.

“The accuracy of parents’ awareness of children’s portion sizes and reporting of children’s food intake is only moderate,” Maffeis said in a press release. “Reduced awareness of food intake in obese or pre-obese children and their parents is an important limiting factor in the modification of nutritional behavior, and associated under-reporting of food intake adversely affects clinicians’ planning of adequate dietary strategies … to translate into practice these desired changes in energy balance, it will be necessary to increase families’ knowledge and awareness of energy content and composition of children’s diets by designing effective and sustainable educational programs about nutrition.”

For more information:

Hall KD. Lancet. 2013;doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(13)70051-2.

Maffeis C. Lancet. 2013;doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(13)70063-9.

Disclosure: Hall reports a US patent application assigned to the NIH related to the use of mathematical models of human metabolism for bodyweight management. All other researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.