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Baby Fat Predicts Childhood Obesity

Too much weight gain in early infancy may spell trouble in childhood

MONDAY, Feb. 4, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Babies who gain weight rapidly in their first four months of life are likely to become obese kids.

That's the conclusion of new research that found even among 1-year-olds who were the same weight, those who had put on more of those pounds in the first four months were more likely to become overweight 7-year-olds. The findings, from doctors at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, appear in today's issue of Pediatrics.

Such a clear association "could have importance by pinpointing this period as critical for development of obesity," says study author Dr. Nicolas Stettler. "The finding may offer a new clue in the mechanism that leads to obesity, and allow us to develop some preventative measures."

However, one pediatrician questions the premise.

"We have known for a long time that weight at 6 months was correlated with weight at 7 years," says Dr. Marc Jacobson, a pediatric professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "Data from the 1960s is just not that relevant to the current epidemic of obesity, which has got to be related to environmental changes."

Stettler disagrees.

"The prevalence of obesity is changing, yes, but if there is an association between early weight and childhood obesity in the 1960s, it is hard to imagine why this association wouldn't be present now. If there is an underlying physiological mechanism that causes obesity, it is unlikely to change over time," he adds.

The study surveyed the weights of almost 20,000 full-term babies born between 1959 and 1965. The data was collected from the National Collaborative Perinatal Project, a study done at that time to investigate risk factors for cerebral palsy.

The babies were weighed at birth, at 4 months, at 1 year and at 7 years.

Doctors had no information on whether or not the babies were breast-fed or what they ate, as this data was not collected at the time.

However, they found babies who weighed more than the norm by one-quarter of a pound more each month for their first four months of life had a 29 percent higher risk of being overweight when they were 7.

The normal weight gain for babies during the first four months is about six pounds. The babies at risk had gained at least a pound more than that by the time they were 4 months old, and were overweight when they were 7 years old.

About 1,000 of the children, or 5 percent, fell into this category, which Stettler says matches the prevalence of obesity among children during the early 1960s.

Since then, he adds, "the prevalence of obesity among 6- to 11-year-olds has more than tripled," and he would expect any study tracking babies today would reflect that trend.

"I'm not suggesting that parents put their babies on diets," Stettler stresses.

Instead, he notes, the findings back up American Association of Pediatrics' recommendations that urge women to breast-feed their babies for the first six months of life.

"No other food is necessary, and children who are breast-fed gain weight more slowly," he says.

A baby's ideal weight depends on many factors, including time of gestation and body length at birth. Stettler recommends parents follow their pediatrician's advice about a healthy weight for their baby.

What To Do: The American Academy of Pediatric's position paper on breast-feeding contains lots of good information. You can also find out how children's soft-drink consumption is linked to obesity from the Harvard School of Public Health.

SOURCES: Interviews with Nicolas Stettler, M.D., assistant professor, pediatrics and epidemiology, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Marc Jacobson, M.D., professor, pediatrics and epidemiology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y., and Schneider Children's Hospital, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; February 2002 Pediatrics.
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