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Is there an intrauterine influence on obesity? Evidence from parent–child associations in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)
  1. George Davey Smith1,
  2. Colin Steer2,
  3. Sam Leary2,
  4. Andy Ness2
  1. 1
    Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2
    Community Based Medicine, 24 Tyndall Avenue, Clifton, Bristol, UK
  1. George Davey Smith, Department of Social Medicine, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK; zetkin{at}bristol.ac.uk

Abstract

Background: It has been suggested that increasing obesity levels in young women lead to intrauterine environments that, in turn, stimulate increased obesity among their offspring, generating an intergenerational acceleration of obesity levels. If this mechanism is important, the association of maternal body mass index (BMI) with offspring BMI should be stronger than the association of paternal with offspring BMI.

Objective: To compare the relative strengths of association of maternal and paternal BMI with offspring BMI at age 7.5, taking into account the possible effect of non-paternity.

Methods: We compared strength of association for maternal–offspring and paternal–offspring BMI for 4654 complete parent–offspring trios in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), using unstandardised and standardised regression analysis. We carried out a sensitivity analysis to investigate the influence of non-paternity on these associations.

Results: The strength of association between parental BMI and offspring BMI at age 7.5 was similar for both parents. Taking into account correlations between maternal and paternal BMI, performing standardised rather than unstandardised regression and carrying out a sensitivity analysis for non-paternity emphasised the robustness of the general similarity of the associations. The associations between high parental BMI (top decile) and offspring BMI are also similar for both parents.

Conclusion: Comparison of mother–offspring and father–offspring associations for BMI suggests that intergenerational acceleration mechanisms do not make an important contribution to levels of childhood BMI within the population. Associations at later ages and for different components of body composition now require study.

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Footnotes

  • The UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Abbreviations:
    ALSPAC
    Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children
    BMI
    body mass index

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