s12916-021-01969-8.pdf (585.55 kB)
Download file

Changes over time in latent patterns of childhood-to-adulthood BMI development in Great Britain: evidence from three cohorts born in 1946, 1958, and 1970

Download (585.55 kB)
journal contribution
posted on 26.04.2021, 13:21 by Tom Norris, Mark Hamer, Rebecca Hardy, Leah Li, Ken K Ong, George Ploubidis, Russell Viner, Will JohnsonWill Johnson
Background: Most studies on secular trends in body mass index (BMI) are cross-sectional and the few longitudinal studies have typically only investigated changes over time in mean BMI trajectories. We aimed to describe how the evolution of the obesity epidemic in Great Britain reflects shifts in the proportion of the population demonstrating different latent patterns of childhood-to-adulthood BMI development.
Methods: We used pooled serial BMI data from 25 655 participants in three British cohorts: the 1946 National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD), 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS), and 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS). Sex-specific growth mixture models captured latent patterns of BMI development between 11-42 years. The classes were characterised in terms of their birth cohort composition.
Results: The best models had four classes, broadly similar for both sexes. The “lowest” class (57% of males; 47% of females) represents the normal weight sub-population, the “middle” class (16%; 15%) represents the sub-population who likely develop overweight in early/mid-adulthood, and the “highest” class (6%; 9%) represents those who likely develop obesity in early/mid-adulthood. The remaining class (21%; 29%) reflects a sub-population with rapidly “increasing” BMI between 11-42 years. Both sexes in the 1958 NCDS had greater odds of being in the “highest” class compared to their peers in the 1946 NSHD but did not have greater odds of being in the “increasing” class. Conversely, males and females in the 1970 BCS had 2.78 (2.15, 3.60) and 1.87 (1.53, 2.28), respectively, times higher odds of being in the “increasing” class.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the obesity epidemic in Great Britain reflects not only an upward shift in BMI trajectories but also a more recent increase in the number of individuals demonstrating more rapid weight gain, from normal weight to overweight, across the second, third, and fourth decades of life.


Body size trajectories and cardio-metabolic resilience to obesity in three United Kingdom birth cohorts

Medical Research Council

Find out more...

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, which is a partnership between University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Loughborough University, and the University of Leicester.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

BMC Medicine




BioMed Central


VoR (Version of Record)

Rights holder

© The Authors

Publisher statement

This is an Open Access Article. It is published by BioMed Central under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0). Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Acceptance date


Publication date


Copyright date







Dr Will Johnson. Deposit date: 22 March 2021

Article number