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BACKGROUND: In New Zealand, the burden of childhood obesity is greatest in Māori and Pacific children.
METHODS: In 687 infants from an internet-based birth cohort in New Zealand, we investigated ethnic differences in early life risk factors for later obesity, the degree to which these were explained by sociodemographic factors, and the extent to which ethnic differences in weight at age 3 months were explained by measured risk factors.
RESULTS: The risk of having an obese mother was double in Māori and Pacific infants compared with NZ European infants (prevalence 24% and 14%, respectively; OR 2.23, 95% CI 1.23 to 4.04). Māori and Pacific infants had higher weights in the first week of life and at 3 months (mean difference 0.19 kg, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.38), and their mothers had higher scores on a 'snacks' dietary pattern and lower scores on 'healthy' and 'sweet' dietary patterns. These inequalities were not explained by maternal education, maternal age or area-based deprivation. No ethnic differences were observed for maternal pre-pregnancy physical activity, hypertension or diabetes in pregnancy, exclusive breastfeeding or early introduction of solid foods. Ethnic inequalities in infant weight at 3 months were not explained by sociodemographic variables, maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index or dietary pattern scores or by other measured risk factors.
CONCLUSIONS: This study shows excess prevalence of early life risk factors for obesity in Māori and Pacific infants in New Zealand and suggests an urgent need for early interventions for these groups.