By analyzing the electronic medical records of babies seen for routine "well-child" visits to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston pediatric clinic, researchers found that about 16 percent of 6-month-olds fit the criterion for obesity — a weight-for-length ratio that put them in the top 5 percent of all babies in their age group.
Further analysis of the records indicated that obese 2-year-olds were much more likely to have been obese at 6 months than 2-year-olds who were not obese.
The obese babies' medical records rarely showed that clinicians had addressed the issue at either 6-month or 24-month visits, despite a well-established connection between obesity at a young age and obesity later in life, which is linked to such serious health problems as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
"Until very recently, pediatricians really haven't been focusing on obesity in babies," said Dr. David McCormick, UTMB clinical professor of pediatrics and senior author of the study. "We're just getting a handle on it descriptively right now. What we're hoping to do is alert our colleagues and our parents. If we address weight management through nutrition and exercise as early in life as possible, it's going to work a lot better."
"We need to do a lot better as clinicians and educators at getting our community educated and working through the entire age spectrum, because babies who are overweight are more likely to be overweight children and adolescents, and then later, when obese women are ready to have a family, their babies are more likely to become obese," McCormick said. "We need to deal with this through all ages and through pregnancy, because if a woman is already overweight when she becomes pregnant, it's extremely difficult for her to do anything about her weight at that point."
Pediatricians confronting infant obesity can recommend a number of measures that other research has shown are linked to healthy weight, measures that should be particularly effective because babies' mothers have much more control over their diets than mothers of older children do.
"Studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding...prevents obesity," McCormick said. "Getting enough fiber — eating apples instead of drinking apple juice, for example — also helps keep babies on track to a healthy weight. By contrast, improper early introduction of cereal by adding it to an infant's bottle promotes obesity."
Citation: McCormick et al., 'Infant Obesity: Are We Ready to Make this Diagnosis?', The Journal of Pediatrics, March 2010; doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.01.028