Contributions of Incidence and Persistence to the Prevalence of Childhood Obesity during the Emerging Epidemic in Denmark
Prevalence of obesity is the result of preceding incidence of newly developed obesity and persistence of obesity. We investigated whether increasing incidence and/or persistence during childhood drove the prevalence of childhood obesity during the emerging epidemic.
Height and weight were measured at ages 7 and 13 years in 192,992 Danish school children born 1930–1969. Trends in the incidence (proportion obese at 13 years among those not obese at 7 years) and persistence (proportion obese at 13 years among those obese at 7 years) across birth cohort periods (1930–41 with low stable prevalence of obesity, 1942–51 with increasing prevalence, 1952–69 with the higher, but stable prevalence) were investigated. Logistic regression was used to examine the associations between BMI at 7 years as a continuous trait, allowing interactions with the birth cohorts, and occurrence of obesity at 13 years.
The prevalence of obesity was similar at 7 and 13 years and increased across birth cohorts in boys from around 0.1% to 0.5% and in girls from around 0.3% to 0.7%. The incidence of obesity between ages 7 and 13 years increased from 0.15% to 0.35% in boys and from 0.20% to 0.44% in girls. The persistence increased from 28.6% to 41.4% in boys and from 16.4% to 31.0% in girls. Despite a decrease over time, the remission of obesity occurred in >60% of obese children in the last birth cohort. However, the odds ratios of obesity at age 13 years in relation to the full range of BMI at 7 years remained unchanged across the birth cohort periods.
The development of the obesity epidemic in children was due to an increase in both incidence and persistence of obesity. Contrary to prevailing expectations, a large, although declining, proportion of children obese at an early age underwent remission during childhood.