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Early Life Factors and Inter-Country Heterogeneity in BMI Growth Trajectories of European Children: The IDEFICS Study
Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS, Bremen, Germany.
Unit of Epidemiology and Population Genetics, Institute of Food Sciences, National Research Council, Avellino, Italy.
Unit of Epidemiology and Population Genetics, Institute of Food Sciences, National Research Council, Avellino, Italy.
Research and Education Institute of Child Health, Strovolos, Cyprus.
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2016 (English)In: PLoS ONE, ISSN 1932-6203, E-ISSN 1932-6203, Vol. 11, no 2, e0149268Article in journal (Refereed) PublishedText
Abstract [en]


Starting from birth, this explorative study aimed to investigate between-country differences in body mass index (BMI) trajectories and whether early life factors explain these differences.


The sample included 7,644 children from seven European countries (Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Sweden) participating in the multi-centre IDEFICS study. Information on early life factors and in total 53,409 repeated measurements of height and weight from 0 to <12 years of age were collected during the baseline (2007/2008) and follow-up examination (2009/2010) supplemented by records of routine child health visits. Country-specific BMI growth curves were estimated using fractional polynomial mixed effects models. Several covariates focussing on early life factors were added to the models to investigate their role in the between-countries differences.


Large between-country differences were observed with Italian children showing significantly higher mean BMI values at all ages ≥ 3 years compared to the other countries. For instance, at age 11 years mean BMI values in Italian boys and girls were 22.3 [21.9;22.8; 99% confidence interval] and 22.0 [21.5;22.4], respectively, compared to a range of 18.4 [18.1;18.8] to 20.3 [19.8;20.7] in boys and 18.2 [17.8;18.6] to 20.3 [19.8;20.7] in girls in the other countries. After adjustment for early life factors, differences between country-specific BMI curves became smaller. Maternal BMI was the factor being most strongly associated with BMI growth (p<0.01 in all countries) with associations increasing during childhood. Gestational weight gain (GWG) was weakly associated with BMI at birth in all countries. In some countries, positive associations between BMI growth and children not being breastfed, mothers’ smoking during pregnancy and low educational level of parents were found.


Early life factors seem to explain only some of the inter-country variation in growth. Maternal BMI showed the strongest association with children’s BMI growth.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
San Francisco: Public Library of Science , 2016. Vol. 11, no 2, e0149268
National Category
Pediatrics Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology Nutrition and Dietetics
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-30481DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0149268PubMedID: 26901773OAI: diva2:909446
Available from: 2016-03-07 Created: 2016-03-07 Last updated: 2016-03-07Bibliographically approved

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Regber, Susann
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Centre of Research on Welfare, Health and Sport (CVHI)
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