BACKGROUND: Poor diet quality in early childhood is inconsistently linked to obesity risk. Understanding may be limited by the use of cross-sectional data and the use of body mass index (BMI) to define adiposity in childhood.
OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study is to examine the effects of continued exposure to diets of varying quality across early childhood in relation to adiposity at 6 years.
METHODS: One thousand and eighteen children from a prospective UK birth cohort were studied. Diet was assessed using food frequency questionnaires when the children were aged 6 and 12 months, and 3 and 6 years; diet quality was determined according to scores for a principal component analysis-defined dietary pattern at each age (characterized by frequent consumption of fruits, vegetables and fish). At each age, children were allocated a value of 0/1/2 according to third of the distribution (bottom/middle/top) their diet quality score was in; values were summed to calculate an overall diet quality index (DQI) for early childhood (range 0-8). Obesity outcomes considered at 6 years were dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry-assessed fat mass and BMI.
RESULTS: One hundred and seven (11%) children had a DQI=0, indicating a consistently low diet quality, 339 (33%) had a DQI=1-3, 378 (37%) had a DQI=4-6 and 194 (19%) had a DQI=7-8. There was a strong association between lower DQI and higher fat mass z-score at 6 years that was robust to adjustment for confounders (fat mass s.d. per 1-unit DQI increase: β=-0.05 (95% confidence interval (CI): -0.09, -0.01), P=0.01). In comparison with children who had the highest diet quality (DQI=7-8), this amounted to a difference in fat mass of 14% (95% CI: 2%, 28%) at 6 years for children with the poorest diets (DQI=0). In contrast, no independent associations were observed between DQI and BMI.
CONCLUSIONS: Continued exposure to diets of low quality across early childhood is linked to adiposity at the age of 6 years.International Journal of Obesity advance online publication, 30 June 2015; doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.97.