The aim of this longitudinal study was to analyze whether mean Body Mass Index (BMI), assessed at four occasions, changed within different age groups and birth cohorts over time, i.e., between 1980/81 and 2004/05, after adjustment for possible confounders.
A sample of 2728 men and 2770 women aged 16–71 years at study start were randomly drawn from the Swedish Total Population Register and followed from 1980/81 to 2004/05. The same sample was assessed on four occasions during the 24-year study period (i.e., every eighth year). The outcome variable, BMI, was based on self-reported height and weight. A mixed model, with random intercept and random slope, was used to estimate annual changes in BMI within the different age groups and birth cohorts.
Mean BMI increased from 24.1 to 25.5 for men and from 23.1 to 24.3 for women during the 24-year study period. The annual change by age group was highest in the ages of 32–39, 40–47 and 48–55 years among men, and in the ages of 24–31, 32–39, and 40–47 years among women. The highest annual changes were found in the youngest birth cohorts for both men and women, i.e., those born 1958–65, 1966–73, and 1974–81. For each birth cohort, the annual change in BMI increased compared to the previous, i.e., older, birth cohort. In addition, age-by-cohort interaction tests revealed that the increase in BMI by increasing age was higher in the younger birth cohorts (1966–1989) than in the older ones.
Public health policies should target those age groups and birth cohorts with the highest increases in BMI. For example, younger birth cohorts had higher annual increases in BMI than older birth cohorts, which means that younger cohorts increased their BMI more than older ones during the study period.