The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
CA, PD, DN were responsible for the conception of the study. SS and AS were responsible for the design and acquisition of data for the TCS study. CA, AW, PD, DN were responsible for the design and acquisition of data for the CMU health worker study. CA analyzed the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed to interpretation of the data, revised the manuscript and approved the final manuscript.
Obesity and obesity related conditions, driven by processes such as urbanization and globalization, are contributing to pronounced cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in developing countries. There is limited evidence on the influence of living in an urban environment in early life on obesity and obesity related conditions later in life in developing countries such as Thailand.
We used data from two cohort studies conducted in Thailand, the Thai Cohort Study (TCS) and the Chiang Mai University (CMU) Health Worker Study, to investigate the association between early life urban (vs rural) exposure and the later development of obesity. We additionally explored the association between early life urban exposure and impaired fasting glucose in adulthood using data from the CMU Health Worker Study.
Among 48,490 adults from the TCS, 9.1 % developed obesity within 4 years of follow-up. Among 1,804 initially non-obese adults from CMU Health worker study, 13.6 % developed obesity within 5 years of follow-up. Early life urban exposure was associated with increased risk of developing obesity in adulthood in both cohorts. Adjusting for age and sex, those who spent their early lives in urban areas were 1.21 times more likely to develop obesity in the TCS (OR 1.21, 95 % CI 1.12 to 1.31) and 1.65 times more likely in the CMU Health Worker study (OR 1.65, 95 % CI 1.23 to 2.20). These associations remained significant despite adjustment for later life urban exposure and current household income. No evidence for an association was found for impaired fasting glucose.
Early life urban exposure was associated with increased risk of developing obesity in adulthood. These findings support public health intervention programs to prevent obesity starting from early ages.