Is Baby Fat a Warning Sign? New Research Links Infants' Weight Gain to Obesity

By Eliza Strickland | March 31, 2009 10:05 am

baby measurementThe rate at which infants gain weight in the first six months of their lives is linked to those babies’ risk of becoming obese by age three, a new study has found. Researchers determined that sudden weight gain in early infancy was more important than how much a baby weighed at birth, the weight of the infant’s parents, or the number of pounds put on by the mother during pregnancy. “The perception has been that a chubby baby and a baby that grows fast early in life is healthier and all the baby fat will disappear,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr. Elsie Taveras…. “But [that] is not the case” [Chicago Tribune].

While the researchers note that early childhood obesity does not necessarily lead to obesity later in life, they say it does raise the risks. Obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled in the last 20 years, and almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese. The epidemic of obesity is linked to a host of health problems such as higher risks for heart disease, diabetes and cancer [Reuters].

More than 550 children were followed for more than three years in the new study, published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers used measures of body weight and length together—referred to as weight-for-length—because the combination gave a better picture of a child’s body fat composition than weight alone, like the body mass index for adults [Chicago Tribune]. The researchers then divided the babies into four groups based on their weight-for-length gain and found that babies in the highest quartile at 6 months had a 40 percent risk of being obese at 3 years old compared to a 1 percent risk for children in the lowest quartile [Boston Globe blog].

Researchers say the factors causing early childhood obesity are still fairly obscure, and Tavernas doesn’t recommend putting infants on diets; she says it’s too soon to recommend interventions or treatments. Pediatrician Mary Hall agrees that more studies need to be done, but she suggest that parents can start healthy eating habits from the get-go. Hall said she advises parents of pudgy babies to not respond to all of their baby’s needs with food. “They may need to hold the baby, change the baby’s diaper, or the baby may be tired,” she said. “I tell them to make sure they’re not responding to every cry with formula” [Chicago Tribune].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Uncle Al

    What is the proper weight and lifespan of a human being? Visit a nursng home to see what your hundreds of $billions/year majorly purchase: persistence and warehousing of the elderly living dead. Eat what you want, live to be 80, punch out before your brain rots. If that sends Big Pharma into the same hole as Wall Steet and Detroit, they can take SSRI happy pills augmented by Abilify (aripiprazole).

    Dead of one thing or dead of ten things, you are still dead. It makes no sense to encumber 60 happy years of your adult life to add on 20 miserable years.

  • John Cassady

    Al, maybe I’m just being dense but I have no idea what you are trying to say.

  • Ammy

    I have to wonder how much our weight has to do with our natural predisposition rather than behavior. If those that will be overweight in life are already overweight by 6 months old, before there’s even food type choice, this seems to speak to it being a part of our basic makeup rather than bad choices on our own part. I suspect our obesity comes largely from our genetics. One look at the Samoan population lets you know which genetic makeup survived the deprivation after hurricanes destroy all of the breadfruit for a season. It’s likely true for the rest of us to a lesser degree, with those whose genetics selected for things other than extreme deprivation situations. There are those who are beanpoles from the get go, and those who are fighting fat from their youth. With so much abundance in the past 50 years in the U.S., it’s not particularly surprising that our basic dispositions towards packing it on are being expressed more than before the days of refrigeration.

  • Todd

    Over the past year, I’ve gone from 275 to 225 lbs. I’ve done this by eating smaller portions at more frequent intervals. The general rule is;

    weight (lbs) X 15 = calories needed/day to maintain your current weight
    Less than that then you lose.
    More than that then you gain.

    I realized I was eating upwards of 4000/day, so I dropped to 1200/day by eating 200 every three hours. This meant six times a day, I would eat. My stomach now holds less food because it shrunk and I can’t believe I went through the first 38 years of my life eating the way I was taught (three meals/day). It’s wrong and it just keeps us fat.

    The only thing that early weight gain is a warning sign of is parents that don’t know how to feed their children. The “fat-and-can’t-help-it” gene, in my layman opinion, is very rare.

  • Dr. Charles Martin

    Interesting article. Let’s hope more research is done to help determine whether interventions can be implemented as early as possible to help prevent obesity, a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Elevated blood sugar is now epidemic in the U.S. and its complications cause untold suffering and billions in healthcare costs. Unfortunately, one of the complications is gum disease, which then interacts with high blood sugar symptoms and interferes with diabetes control. We write extensively about related issues at

    – Charles Martin, DDS
    Founder, Dentistry For Diabetics


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