Percentage of Overweight Infants Increasing
The percentage of infants six months of age or younger who are overweight or at risk for becoming overweight increased from 10.4% in 1980 to 17% in 2001, according to a An abstract of the study is available study published in the July issue of the journal Obesity, USA Today reports.
The study, which was led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, examines medical records of 120,680 children younger than age six who received "well child" visits in Massachusetts through an HMO from 1980 to 2001 (Hellmich, USA Today, 8/10). During the study period, the children made more than 360,000 doctor visits, including 72,000 visits among infants younger than six months of age.
The study classifies infants as "overweight" if their weight-for-height ratio equals or exceeds the 95th percentile on government growth charts, and it classifies infants as "at risk for overweight" if infants' weight-for-height ranges from the 85th percentile up to the 95th percentile (Greene, St. Petersburg Times, 8/9).
Among all age groups in the study, the percentage of children who were overweight increased from 6.3% in 1980 to 10% in 2001, while the percentage of children at risk for becoming overweight increased from 11.1% to 14.4%. In infants younger than six months of age, the percentage of children who were overweight increased from 3.4% to 5.9%, according to the study.
The study does not examine potential causes of the increase in weight among infants, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports.
Lead author Matthew Gillman, an associate professor at HMS, said previous studies suggest that an infant's tendency to be overweight might be linked to gestational diabetes, women's excess weight gain during pregnancy and women's own high weight before pregnancy (Trujillo, AP/Long Island Newsday, 8/9). Gillman said, "One of the biggest implications of these findings is that we need to think about obesity prevention at the earliest stages of human development, even before birth" (St. Petersburg Times, 8/9).
Gillman added, "We no longer have grave threats to the lives of infants, such as diarrhea, other infections and malnutrition. Our problem in the 21st century is chronic disease, and as these overweight babies grow up, are they going to get asthma, stay overweight, develop high blood pressure and diabetes?" He added that parents should not be excessively concerned if their infant is overweight because many infants lose their "baby fat" as they grow (Goldberg, Boston Globe, 8/10).
Jamie Calabrese, medical director of the Children's Institute and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' obesity task force, said, "We don't have a definition of overweight for children under two, so [this study's] conclusions are questionable." She added, "Babies have periods of time when they gain weight and periods where they have accelerated growth, so they may appear chubby at times and at other times appear thinner due to rapid growth in height."
However, Calabrese that using "food as a calming mechanism" or using "food as a comfort measure ... are two very bad reasons to give your child food."
William Dietz, a pediatrician at CDC, said, "Parents have to use prudent feeding practices and use infant foods, not fast foods. Some infants are being fed french fries" (USA Today, 8/10).
Wendy Slusser, a childhood obesity specialist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California-Los Angeles, said a person's weight in infancy does not necessarily dictate weight later in life, but added, "If we're seeing a trend of a population increasing in size, that does raise questions about the health habits of that population" (Boston Globe, 8/10).