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How youth cognitive and sociodemographic factors relate to the development of overweight and obesity in the UK and the USA: a prospective cross-cohort study of the National Child Development Study and National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979
  1. Drew M Altschul1,
  2. Christina Wraw2,
  3. Catharine R Gale3,
  4. Ian J Deary1
  1. 1Psychology, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
  2. 2National Health Service Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Drew M Altschul; dmaltschul{at}gmail.com

Abstract

Objectives We investigated how youth cognitive and sociodemographic factors are associated with the aetiology of overweight and obesity. We examined both onset (who is at early risk for overweight and obesity) and development (who gains weight and when).

Design Prospective cohort study.

Setting We used data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 (NLSY) and the UK National Child Development Study (NCDS); most of both studies completed a cognitive function test in youth.

Participants 12 686 and 18 558 members of the NLSY and NCDS, respectively, with data on validated measures of youth cognitive function, youth socioeconomic disadvantage (eg, parental occupational class and time spent in school) and educational attainment. Height, weight and income data were available from across adulthood, from individuals’ 20s into their 50s.

Primary and secondary outcome measures Body mass index (BMI) for four time points in adulthood. We modelled gain in BMI using latent growth curve models to capture linear and quadratic components of change in BMI over time.

Results Across cohorts, higher cognitive function was associated with lower overall BMI. In the UK, 1 SD higher score in cognitive function was associated with lower BMI (β=−0.20, 95% CI −0.33 to −0.06 kg/m²). In America, this was true only for women (β=−0.53, 95% CI −0.90 to −0.15 kg/m²), for whom higher cognitive function was associated with lower BMI. In British participants only, we found limited evidence for negative and positive associations, respectively, between education (β=−0.15, 95% CI −0.26 to −0.04 kg/m²) and socioeconomic disadvantage (β=0.33, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.43 kg/m²) and higher BMI. Overall, no cognitive or socioeconomic factors in youth were associated with longitudinal changes in BMI.

Conclusions While sociodemographic and particularly cognitive factors can explain some patterns in individuals’ overall weight levels, differences in who gains weight in adulthood could not be explained by any of these factors.

  • obesity
  • overweight
  • longitudinal studies
  • cognition
  • socioeconomic factors

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

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Footnotes

  • Contributors DMA discussed and planned the study and analyses, analysed the data, interpreted the data and drafted the initial manuscript. CW discussed and planned the study and analyses, interpreted the data and contributed to the manuscript. CRG discussed and planned the study and analyses, interpreted the data and contributed to the manuscript. IJD discussed and planned the study and analyses, interpreted the data and contributed to the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, part of the cross council Lifelong Health and WellbeingWell-being Initiative (MR/K026992/1). Funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC) is gratefully acknowledged. This work was also supported by an MRC Mental Health Data Pathfinder award (MC_PC_17209).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available.

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