Open Access Research article

Parental socioeconomic position and development of overweight in adolescence: longitudinal study of Danish adolescents

Camilla Schmidt Morgen1*, Laust Hvas Mortensen2, Mette Rasmussen3, Anne-Marie Nybo Andersen2, Thorkild IA Sørensen4 and Pernille Due3

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Department of Social Medicine, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen K, Denmark

3 National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark

4 Institute of Preventive Medicine, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:520  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-520

Published: 29 August 2010



An inverse social gradient in overweight among adolescents has been shown in developed countries, but few studies have examined whether weight gain and the development of overweight differs among adolescents from different socioeconomic groups in a longitudinal study. The objective was to identify the possible association between parental socioeconomic position, weight change and the risk of developing overweight among adolescents between the ages 15 to 21.


Prospective cohort study conducted in Denmark with baseline examination in 1996 and follow-up questionnaire in 2003 with a mean follow-up time of 6.4 years. A sample of 1,656 adolescents participated in both baseline (mean age 14.8) and follow-up (mean age 21.3). Of these, 1,402 had a body mass index (BMI = weight/height2kg/m2) corresponding to a value below 25 at baseline when adjusted for age and gender according to guidelines from International Obesity Taskforce, and were at risk of developing overweight during the study period. The exposure was parental occupational status. The main outcome measures were change in BMI and development of overweight (from BMI < 25 to BMI > = 25).


Average BMI increased from 21.3 to 22.7 for girls and from 20.6 to 23.6 in boys during follow-up. An inverse social gradient in overweight was seen for girls at baseline and follow-up and for boys at follow-up. In the full population there was a tendency to an inverse social gradient in the overall increase in BMI for girls, but not for boys. A total of 13.4% developed overweight during the follow-up period. Girls of lower parental socioeconomic position had a higher risk of developing overweight (OR's between 4.72; CI 1.31 to 17.04 and 2.03; CI 1.10-3.74) when compared to girls of high parental socioeconomic position. A tendency for an inverse social gradient in the development of overweight for boys was seen, but it did not meet the significance criteria


The levels of overweight and obesity among adolescents are high and continue to rise. Results from this study suggest that the inverse social gradient in overweight becomes steeper for girls and emerges for boys in late adolescence (age span 15 to 21 years). Late adolescence seems to be an important window of opportunity in reducing the social inequality in overweight among Danish adolescents.