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Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Sep;96(3):567-73. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.022020. Epub 2012 Jul 25.

Body-composition development during early childhood and energy expenditure in response to physical activity in 1.5-y-old children.

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  • 1Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.



The prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity has increased recently, but the mechanisms involved are incompletely known. Previous research has shown a correlation between the percentage of total body fat (TBF) and physical activity level (PAL). However, the PAL values used may involve a risk of spurious correlations because they are often based on predicted rather than measured estimates of resting energy metabolism.


We studied the development of body composition during early childhood and the relation between the percentage of TBF and PAL on the basis of the measured resting energy metabolism.


Body composition was previously measured in 108 children when they were 1 and 12 wk old. When 44 of these children (21 girls and 23 boys) were 1.5 y old, their total energy expenditure and TBF were assessed by using the doubly labeled water method. Resting energy metabolism, which was assessed by using indirect calorimetry, was used to calculate PAL.


Significant correlations were shown for TBF (r = 0.32, P = 0.035) and fat-free mass (r = 0.34, P = 0.025) between values (kg) assessed at 12 wk and 1.5 y of age. For TBF (kg) a significant interaction (P = 0.035) indicated a possible sex difference. PAL at 1.5 y was negatively correlated with the percentage of TBF (r = -0.40, P = 0.0076) and the increase in the percentage of TBF between 12 wk and 1.5 y (r = -0.38, P = 0.0105).


The results indicate that body fatness and physical activity interact during early childhood and thereby influence obesity risk. Our results are based on a small sample, but nevertheless, they motivate additional studies in boys compared with girls regarding the development of body composition during early life.

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