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Open Access Research article

A prospective study of weight development and behavior problems in toddlers: the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study

Susan Garthus-Niegel12*, Knut A Hagtvet3 and Margarete E Vollrath13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychosomatics and Health Behavior, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Postbox 4404, Nydalen, 0403 Oslo, Norway

2 HØKH, Research Centre, Akershus University Hospital, Box 95, 1478 Nordbyhagen, Norway

3 Institute of Psychology, University of Oslo, Postboks 1094, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:626  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-626

Published: 20 October 2010



Previous research has suggested that overweight children have a higher risk of behavior problems, but the causal direction of this relationship remains unclear. In a large prospective population study, we investigated whether child behavior problems and body mass index are associated in toddlers and whether overweight is a risk for behavior problems or vice versa.


The study was part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. The sample consisted of 10 860 toddlers, followed up to age 36 months. We used data from maternal questionnaires from gestation week 17 and at child ages 18 and 36 months, and data from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway. Child height and weight were assessed at child health stations and recorded by mothers. Behavior problems were assessed using shortened subscales from the Child Behavior Checklist. Statistical analyses were conducted using structural equation modeling.


Behavior problems in toddlers were not associated with higher body mass index cross-sectionally at either age 18 or 36 months, and there was no indication that behavior problems caused increasing body mass index over time or vice versa.


The association between behavior problems and body mass index found in older children did not appear in toddlers up to age 36 months. Future studies should focus on the age span from 3 to 6 years, which includes the period of adiposity rebound.