Tracking and Persistence of weight status during childhood

A new study led by A/Prof Alison Hayes examined which groups of children are more likely to become overweight, or have persistent overweight, in childhood and adolescence.

Knowing the demographic characteristics of young children who are likely to become overweight, or who are most likely to have persistent overweight is critical information in the design of childhood obesity prevention programmes. To date there has been a lack of information on tracking of weight status during childhood.    Associate Professor Alison Hayes, Health Economics stream lead of CRE EPOCH, led a new study examining how children move between healthy and unhealthy weight during childhood and adolescence, using data from over 9,000 children in a large national cohort study, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

The study categorised children as being in healthy or unhealthy weight status at age 4-5 years based on World Health Organization definitions. It examined the duration of time that children remained in healthy weight and overweight/obesity beyond age 4-5 years, and used time-to-event analysis to determine demographic predictors of moving out of healthy or overweight.

They found that healthy weight in early childhood was stable and persistent through the child and adolescent period.  Overweight was less persistent and children with overweight were most likely to return to a healthy weight, without intervention, between 2 and 7 years of age.  These findings highlight the importance of early prevention to establish healthy weight prior to school entry, and suggest an opportune time for interventions to reduce overweight would be before children reach 7 years of age.

Children of lower socio-economic position, those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and girls had a higher risk of becoming overweight and a lower likelihood of resolving their overweight, beyond early childhood.

The figures show the predicted probabilities of remaining in healthy weight or remaining overweight by age 10-11 years and 16-17 years, according to sex, socioeconomic position and culturally and linguistically diverse status.

‘Our results suggest targeted prevention and treatment programs should be tailored for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, from culturally and linguistically diverse households and with special consideration for girls,’ A/Prof Hayes said.

Consideration of health equity is critical to any public health intervention.  These findings provide some evidence on priority groups and timing of intervention that would be useful for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers working in prevention of childhood obesity.

Read the full paper here: Hayes A, Carrello J, Kelly P, Killedar A, Baur LA. Looking forward and backwards: tracking and persistence of weight status between early childhood and adolescence. International Journal of Obesity 2021  DOI: 10.1038/s41366-021-00751-3.

For further details, please contact A/Prof Alison Hayes at

Heat map of the predicted probabilities of remaining in healthy weight and remaining in overweight by age 10/11 years and 16/17 years, according to sex, socioeconomic position and culturally and linguistically diverse status.

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