Parent-Offspring Associations in Body Composition: Findings From the Southampton Women’s Survey Prospective Cohort Study

Children born to parents who are overweight or obese have a high risk of adult obesity, but it is unclear if transgenerational associations relating to unfavorable body composition differ by parent.

To examine differential mother-offspring and father-offspring associations in body composition in early childhood.

A total of 240 mother-father-offspring trios from a prospective UK population-based pre-birth cohort (Southampton Women’s Survey) were included for anthropometry and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry assessment of whole-body-less-head body composition in the offspring at 3 different ages (4, 6-7, and 8-9 years) and in the mother and father at the 8- to 9-year offspring visit. Associations were assessed using linear regression adjusting for the other parent.

Positive associations between mother-daughter body mass index (BMI) and fat mass were observed at ages 6 to 7 (BMI: β = .29 SD/SD, 95% CI = .10, .48; fat mass β = .27 SD/SD, 95% CI = .05, .48) and 8 to 9 years (BMI: β = .33 SD/SD, 95% CI = .13, .54; fat mass β = .31 SD/SD, 95% CI = .12, .49), with similar associations at age 4 years but bounding the 95% CI. The mother-son, father-son, and father-daughter associations for BMI and fat mass were weaker at each of the ages studied.

A strong association between the fat mass of mothers and their daughters but not their sons was observed. In contrast, father-offspring body composition associations were not evident. The dimorphic parent-offspring effects suggest particular attention should be given to early prevention of unfavorable body composition in girls born to mothers with excess adiposity.