MONDAY, July 7, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Infants cared for by caregivers other than their parents tend to gain more weight than children cared for by their parents, a new study says.
And children receiving regular care from people other than their parents are also less likely to be breast-fed and more likely to be introduced to solid foods early, the researchers found.
"The current study suggests this risk is greater among children sent to child care early than among children kept under parental supervision," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University School of Medicine's Prevention Research Center, who was not involved in the study.
Other studies have suggested that breast-feeding for up to the first 12 months of life may confer protection against obesity, so that may be one of the factors at work here, Katz said, referring to the study. "Feeding practices that take place in child-care settings may also be part of the formula," he said.
More and more evidence suggests that the threat of excess weight gain and obesity is taking hold in America's nurseries, Katz said. "Studies show obesity emerging as a problem even in the first year of life. This, in turn, results in a higher risk of diabetes in youth, and lifelong obesity and its many consequences."
For the new study, Juhee Kim, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Karen E. Peterson, of the Harvard School of Public Health, collected data on more than 8,100 nine-month-old infants. During home visits, between 2001 and 2002, the infants were weighed and measured, and the researchers gathered information about how the children were cared for.
Fifty-five percent of the children received regular care from someone other than a parent. Of these, half were in full-time child care, 40.3 percent began child care when they were younger than 3 months old, 39.3 percent began child care when they were between 3 and 5.9 months old, and 20.7 percent began child care when they were 6 months or older.
Children who started child care when they were younger than 3 months old were less likely to be breast-fed and more likely to start solid foods, compared with children cared for by parents.
Moreover, children in part-time child care gained about 0.4 more pounds over nine months than infants cared for by their parents. And children who were cared for by relatives gained about 0.35 more pounds, were also introduced to solid food early, and were less likely to be breast-fed, the researchers said.
Early introduction to solid food and lack of breast-feeding are established factors for weight gain, Kim and Peterson noted.
"Our study results provide new evidence that child care influences both infant feeding practices and risk of overweight at least during infancy," the study authors wrote. "Thus, more research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which these early child care factors and infant feeding practices affect subsequent risk for childhood overweight."
The study findings were published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Katz said: "Factors such as economic challenges, lack of spouse or supportive family nearby, long and inflexible work hours, might be the root causes for differential weight gain among newborns. The only reliable way to address such potentially deep-seated causes of childhood obesity is to ensure that knowledge of healthful eating, and access to affordable, healthful choices, is the norm both at home and everywhere else."
Another report in the same issue of the journal found that adults who had good nutrition in early childhood score better on intelligence tests, regardless of how many years they spent in school.
For the study, U.S. researchers gave some Guatemalan children a protein-rich enhanced nutritional supplement called atole, between 1969 and 1977. Other children were given sugar sweetened beverages.
From 2002 to 2004, 1,448 of the study participants, then 32 years old, on average, were given intelligence tests. The researchers found that those who had been exposed to atole had higher scores on intelligence tests of reading comprehension and cognitive function, compared with those not given atole.
To learn more about infant nutrition, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.