Development of overweight in children in relation to parental weight and socioeconomic status

Claudia Semmler, Jo Ashcroft, Cornelia H.M. Van Jaarsveld, Susan Carnell, Jane Wardle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of the study was to test the hypothesis that socioeconomic status (SES) moderates the association between parental weight and changes in BMI from childhood to early adolescence. Participants included 428 twin children from 100 families with obese parents ("obese families") and 114 sociodemographically matched families with normal-weight parents ("lean families") who were assessed in their homes (age = 4.4). Follow-up study was conducted 7 years later (age = 11.2) on 346 children (81%). Complete data were available for 333 children. Family SES was indexed with maternal education. Children's weights and heights were measured to calculate BMI s.d. scores based on 1990 British norms. Overweight was defined as >91st BMI centile. In children with obese parents, BMI s.d. scores increased from 0.51 at age 4 to 1.06 at age 11. In children with lean parents, BMI s.d. scores decreased from 0.11 to 0.05. Prevalence of overweight remained stable from age 4 to 11 in children with lean parents (8% to 9%), but it more than doubled in children with obese parents (17% to 45%). There was a significant interaction between parental weight and family SES (P < 0.01), so that in children with lean parents there was no SES difference in the BMI status from age 4 to 11; however, in children with obese parents, the increase in adiposity was significantly greater in lower SES families. These results suggest that parental leanness confers significant protection against development of overweight in children regardless of family SES, while parental obesity is an adverse prognostic sign, especially in lower SES families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814-820
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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