Your body weight “set point”. Was it shaped in childhood?

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Childhood obesity is not a new issue. However, research from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute confirms that it has become far more prevalent over the last few decades.

Prevalence rates of overweight and obesity for 5-15 year old Australian children have increased from 10 per cent in 1980 to over 25 per cent now.

Currently the Institute is undertaking a number of innovative obesity studies including one which is looking at ‘set-points’ for weight regulation and whether this differs in adults and children.

As Associate Professor Matt Sabin from the Institute says: “Every adult has a weight that is normal for them. This is referred to as their ‘set-point’ for weight. Individuals have been shown to have a physiological protection of this set point, explaining why most obese adults who diet eventually regain weight.”

“Our research is investigating whether set points for weight, and their physiological defence, are flexible in early life and whether young children who get on top of their weight will not have this physiological rebound when obesity treatments are finished.”

It is well documented that while most obese adults can lose weight in the short term, the majority can’t maintain their lower body weight in the long term. This is because the body vigorously defends its own set-point for weight, through many interlinking physiological pathways. Several studies have shown that this set point for body weight is strongly maintained, despite variability in energy intake and expenditure. While the set point for body weight in adults appears to be maintained at a relatively stable level for long periods, this trend is not seen in children.

“We have exciting clinical evidence that young children, unlike adults, do not exert the same physiological protection of body-weight, and that it’s possible to easily modify their future weight trajectory so that they don’t grow up to be obese adults. The research study will now test this; if true, then the findings will have major implications for the way in which we prevent and treat childhood obesity,” A/Professor Sabin said.

The study will take groups of young children and adolescents who have either succeeded or not in their efforts to lose weight. Researchers will then give children a test meal and see how their physiology differs in terms of the drive to consume and store calories. Ultimately, they aim to show absolute differences in hormone levels that defend the weight set-point between obese children and adolescents who have lost weight.

To find out more, visit the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute website at:

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'What guides me is home cooking, listening to my appetite, using whole food ingredients, prioritising plant foods and keeping highly processed foods out of my kitchen.'