Do Chubby Babies Make for Chubby Toddlers and Overweight Adults?

By Jennifer Welsh | January 3, 2011 2:44 pm

Most children shed their “baby fat.” But researchers say that in more and more cases, chubby babies (which are about 30 percent of all babies) are primed for obesity later in life.

“We are certainly not saying that overweight babies are doomed to be obese adults,” study researcher Brian Moss, PhD, of Detroit’s Wayne State University tells WebMD. “But we did find some evidence that being overweight at 9 months of age is a predictor of being overweight or obese later in childhood.” [Web MD]

The study followed a group of 7,500 babies born in 2001, classifying them by their position on the baby growth chart as “at risk” (those falling in the 85th to 95th percentile weight group) or “obese” (the 95th and above percentile). When the babies were nine months old and again at the age of two years, the parents filled out surveys about their child’s length and weight, their socioeconomic status, and race. The researchers found that 32 percent of the 9-month-olds were overweight, and 34 percent of the toddlers were. The study was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The baby growth chart was created with baby weights from 1963 to 1994, but now almost double the number of babies (30 instead of 15 percent) fall into the overweight group. The new study did find that children can move between weight categories during their early years: Some of the chubbiest 9-month-olds returned to a normal weight before their second birthdays, while some from the healthy weight category moved up to a heftier weight class.

“It means that in that age group weight is a lot more fluid than it is in an obese 14-year-old,” said Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “And that means that these children are not necessarily condemned to be obese.”  []

Female babies and Asian/Pacific Islanders were at the least risk of being overweight, while Hispanics and children from low-income families were at higher risk.

At age 2, 40% of children living in the lowest income homes were obese or at risk for obesity, compared to 27% of children living in the highest income homes. And 40% of Hispanic children were obese or at risk, compared to 31% of whites and 35% of blacks. [Web MD]

The researchers aren’t pushing for parents to put babies on “diets”; experts note that infants who are exclusively feeding on milk should never be denied breastfeeding or a bottle. But the study does indicate a need for educational campaigns about childhood nutrition, as just a small amount of extra-caloric food has a large impact on a small child’s diet. Previous studies have shown that breastfeeding alone prevents obesity, but parents should also pay close attention to the solid foods they introduce their toddler to. For example, making sure that toddlers get enough fiber (by serving fruit instead of fruit juice) helps keep them at a healthy weight.

“You would be surprised at some of the foods and drinks kids are given,” Rao said. “You see a lot of very young children eating French fries, because that’s what their parents are eating. Sometimes you’ll even see parents putting regular soda into a baby’s bottle.” []

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Image: flickr / Gutsibikes

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • nick

    I wonder what role formula plays in this, if any, since most of it is made out of corn just like fast food and soda.

    Also, when serving ‘fruit juice’ are people serving 100% fruit, or juice that’s been sweet-enhanced by (you guessed it) corn products? While I agree that even 100% fruit juice is still only sugar, it’s gotta be worse when there’s extra.

    Ascorbic acid, that adds vitamin C to all those fruit drinks? Also corn. Enjoy!!

  • cgauthier

    I was a very finicky eater and so scrawny as an infant and toddler that I had to see a doctor about it regularly. My parents were terrified that I would waste away.

    Sometime between five and eight I developed more of an appetite, but my parents never adjusted for it. There was never any shame for me to grab thirds or fourths at mealtime and, consequently, I was obese from eight or so to 23 or 24 (3 or 4 years ago).

  • Elissa

    Did this study take into account weight-for-height ratios, or was it simply weight-for-age? That would seem to make a substantial difference.

  • Mikey G

    My son is in the 99th percentile for height and weight and 85th% for head circumference at age 2..we feed him great food all the time, he doesn’t even know what a piece of candy even is…or cookies for that matter. I have zero reservations about him becoming obese. Some parents are just idiots for what whey throw down their childrens throats. Come on folks, read the labels, and if you think its junk food, don’t give it to em. Pretty simple stuff. Start feeding them 10% fruit juice, cookies, french fries, and cake, that’s all they are gonna want..If they don’t know it exists, they won’t even miss it.

  • Lil

    I very much agree with MikeyG. My son is also in the 98-99th percentiles for height/weight/head circumference. But he’s been that way since he was born, very big, but very proportionate. Genetically he’s absolutely not engineered to be obese, as obesity does not run on either side of the family. So I’ve also got no reservations about his weight. But these are some things I’m curious about——

    *What percentage of these children are still breastfeeding at 9 months?

    *I’m also curious if this takes into account height for weight?

  • Aaron

    All you proved is that parents who overfeed their baby, also overfeed their toddler, and overfeed their preschooler, and [etc.]. If there is a biological basis for the theory that fat babies lead to fat adults, you need babies who were chubby as babies, and then left their home for a family where they don’t “fatten” up the kids (a study which would probably be impossible to do). Perhaps one could look for “fat” babies in the pre-World War II years in Europe to see how they developed after be starved as children.


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