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Stability of body mass index in Australian children: a prospective cohort study across the middle childhood years

  • Kylie Hesketh (a1), Melissa Wake (a1), Elizabeth Waters (a1), John Carlin (a2) and David Crawford (a3)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2007

To investigate the prevalence and incidence of overweight and obesity, the frequency of overweight resolution and the influence of parental adiposity during middle childhood.


As part of a prospective cohort study, height and weight were measured in 1997 and 2000/2001. Children were classified as non-overweight, overweight or obese based on standard international definitions. Body mass index (BMI) was transformed into age- and gender-specific Z-scores employing the LMS method and 2000 growth chart data of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parents self-reported height and weight, and were classified as underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese based on World Health Organization definitions.


Primary schools in Victoria, Australia.


In total, 1438 children aged 5–10 years at baseline.


The prevalence of overweight and obesity increased between baseline (15.0 and 4.3%, respectively) and follow-up (19.7 and 4.8%, respectively; P < 0.001 for increase in overweight and obesity combined). There were 140 incident cases of overweight (9.7% of the cohort) and 24 of obesity (1.7% of the cohort); only 3.8% of the cohort (19.8% of overweight/obese children) resolved to a healthy weight. The stability of child adiposity as measured by BMI category (84.8% remained in the same category) and BMI Z-score (r = 0.84; mean change = −0.05) was extremely high. Mean change in BMI Z-score decreased with age (linear trend β = 0.03, 95% confidence interval 0.01–0.05). The influence of parental adiposity largely disappeared when children's baseline BMI was adjusted for.


During middle childhood, the incidence of overweight/obesity exceeds the proportion of children resolving to non-overweight. However, for most children adiposity remains stable, and stability appears to increase with age. Prevention strategies targeting children in early childhood are required.

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