The ecology of childhood overweight: A 12-year longitudinal analysis

M. O'Brien, P. R. Nader, R. M. Houts, R. Bradley, S. L. Friedman, J. Belsky, E. Susman, Cathryn Booth-LaForce, Celia Brownell, Margaret Burchinal, Susan B. Campbell, K. Alison Clarke-Stewart, Bonnie Knoke, Kathleen McCartney, Margaret T. Owen, Ross Parke, Susan Spieker, Deborah Vandell, Marsha Weinraub

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate ecological correlates of the development of overweight in a multisite study sample of children followed from age 2 to 12. Design: Longitudinal examination of covariates of overweight status throughout childhood, with covariates drawn from three ecological levels: sociocultural or demographic, quality of the child's home environment, and proximal child experience that could directly affect the balance between energy intake and energy expenditure. Subjects: A total of 960 children participating in a long-term longitudinal study provided growth data at least once; 653 of the children had complete data on covariates.Measurements:Height and weight measured seven times between ages 2 and 12 were converted to a body mass index (BMI) and entered into a latent transition analysis to identify patterns of overweight across childhood. Ecological correlates measured longitudinally included demographic characteristics obtained by maternal report, home environment quality obtained by observation and maternal report, and proximal child experience factors obtained by observation, maternal report and child report. Results: Four patterns of overweight were found: never overweight, overweight beginning at preschool age, overweight beginning in elementary school, and return to normal weight after being overweight at preschool age. The weight status groups differed on home environment quality and proximal child experience factors but not on demographics. Children overweight at preschool had less sensitive mothers than never overweight children. Children overweight at school age had fewer opportunities for productive activity at home than did never overweight children. School-age overweight children also watched the most TV after school. Multivariate logistic regression analyses further indicated the significance to children's weight status of proximal child experience variables. Less physically active children and those who watched more television after school were more likely to become overweight. Results did not vary by child sex. Conclusion: The results support the idea that childhood overweight is multiply determined. The one potentially important and changeable factor identified as a target for intervention centers on how children spend their time, especially their after-school time. Children who are more physically active and spend less time watching TV after school are less likely to become overweight by age 12.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1469-1478
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Children
  • Ecological framework
  • Environment
  • Growth patterns
  • Physical activity
  • Television watching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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