Critical periods in early childhood
Nowadays, 15% of children are already overweight at the nursery school. To prevent the early development of obesity, one needs to understand the impact of the first years on the development.
All the periods of early childhood do not contribute in an identical way to the development of the fat mass in adolescence.
Two crucial periods
- First months of life
- After 3 years
A rapid weight gain at 3 months combined with an important weight gain from the age of 3 predisposes the child to later risks of being overweight.
From 3 months onwards, each increase of the speed of growth of 143g/month is an increase in the risk of overweight of more than 50%.
The speed of growth at 3 months: disparities between the sexes
- In the baby boy this speed should be put in relation to the later increase in fat mass and non-fatty mass (muscle mass).
- A risk period for the girls: in the baby girl, a rapid growth in this period will result especially in an increase in the fat mass.
Between one and two years: few risks
On the other hand it seems there are periods when the needs in resources for the development of the child are such that the risk to store fat mass is weak. Between 1 and 2 years the speed of weight gain does not show any association with the later gain in fat mass. Thus, we should not reduce the energy contributions during this period.
After three years: if there is a weight gain, there are high risks for later obesity
Two British and Finnish studies insist on the relationship between fat mass during adolescence and adulthood and weight gain in the first months of life and after age 2.
Some questions still remain unanswered
- What are the factors responsible for a too rapid growth of the weight in the first months of life and after 3 years?
- Can we act on these factors without risks for other aspects of the development?
- What is the share of the early expression of a genetic predisposition?
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