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Chubby Babies: too fat?

March 23, 2010

In spite of today’s story in the New York Times science section, “Baby Fat May Not Be So Cute After All,” I still think  chubby babies are cute…and right on target. But Roni Rabin reports that we should be actively concerned with obesity in our children from, and even before, day one.  “More and more evidence points to pivotal events very early in life — during the toddler years, infancy and even before birth, in the womb — that can set young children on an obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they’re in kindergarten. The evidence is not ironclad, but it suggests that prevention efforts should start very early.”

The research, primarily from a long-term Harvard University study following more than 2,000 women and babies since early in pregnancy, found that:

  • The chubby cherub-like baby who is growing so nicely may be growing too much for his or her own good, research suggests.
  • Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are at risk of becoming obese, even though the babies are usually small at birth.
  • Babies who sleep less than 12 hours are at increased risk for obesity later. If they don’t sleep enough and also watch two hours or more of TV a day, they are at even greater risk.

Like older children, babies and toddlers are getting fatter. One in 10 children under age 2 is overweight. The percentage of children ages 2 to 5 who are obese increased to 12.4 percent in 2006 from 5 percent in 1980. The majority of the programs and studies have historically targeted school-age children.

Some important early interventions are currently in place – in addition to interventions targeting school-aged children, doctors are advising overweight women to lose weight before pregnancy instead of after and breastfeeding is recommended to reduce the obesity risk. But research suggests that more could probably be done.

Dr. Elsie M. Taveras of Harvard Medical School said that ““It used to be kind of taboo to label a child under 5 as overweight or obese, even if the child was — the thinking was that it was too stigmatizing.” She goes on to question whether the last 10 years of policies to combat childhood obesity have been sufficient.  “That’s not to say they’ve been wrong — obviously it’s important to improve access to healthy food in schools and increase opportunities for exercise. But it might not be enough.”

Some of the reader comments on the article pointed out some great points:

  • “The thought of promoting dieting among infants or toddlers is downright frightening and shows that the fear/war on obesity has gone way way too far. Parents, especially weight-conscious parents, are much more likely to cause harm than do good–or set their children up for a lifetime of eating issues, as well as potential developmental issues.”
  • “I am sorry, but this is wrong. All 3 of my children were chubby babies because they had a great supply of breast milk. ALL of the are now slim and healthy. Why? They do not eat processed or fast food and they are active. Chubby babies ARE healthy babies if they receive healthy breast milk (I never ate junk when I was breast feeding).”
  • “Ellyn Satter is probably the sanest, and one of the most respected nutritionists on weight and healthy eating. http://www.ellynsatter.com Look at her responsibility of eating. Parents provide the healthful food (including dessert). Kids decide how much to eat. Works pretty well.”