Obesity Prevention Should Start in Infancy

Obesity prevention should start as young as infancy, according to a new study, which may require a change in cultural attitudes about chubby babies.

While most obesity prevention programs target children age 8 and older, new research suggests that interventions aimed at school-aged children could be too late to make an impact. Instead, scientists say efforts to prevent childhood obesity should begin far earlier than previously recommended – even before birth.

“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,” Dr. Elsie M. Taveras of Harvard Medical School, lead author of a paper on early obesity risk factors, told the New York Times.

But, new research indicates that safeguards during the last 10 years have been insufficient in the fight against childhood obesity. Much of the evidence comes from a long-term Harvard study led by Dr. Matthew Gillman that followed more than 120,000 babies born between 1980 and 2001.

According to the study, much like children and teenagers, babies and toddlers have been packing on the pounds. In fact, one in 10 children under age 2 is overweight. Obese children ages 2 to 5 also increased from 5 percent in 1980 to 12.4 percent in 2006. But most obesity prevention programs are geared toward older children and teens.

Although early interventions are still few and far between, a few have begun to take hold as researchers continue to investigate the effect that a mother’s weight issues can have on the health of her child. Doctors now recommend that overweight women lose weight before pregnancy, rather than after, in an effort to cut the risk of obesity and diabetes in their children. Breast-feeding is also recommended to lower the obesity risk.

Implementing obesity intervention during the first few years of a child’s life may require parents and health care providers to abandon some cherished cultural attitudes, Dr. Leann L. Birch, director of Penn State’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research, told the New York Times.

“The idea that a big baby is a healthy baby, and a crying baby is probably a hungry baby who should be fed, are things we really need to rethink,” she said.

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