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Does Baby Fat Lead to Obesity?

There's new evidence that baby fat may not always be so cute after all. Babies that gain a lot of weight quickly in their first six months of life are at increased risk for becoming obese by the time they become toddlers, according to new research.

Obesity rates among children in the United States have doubled in the last 20 years, and nearly one-third of U.S. children are now considered overweight or obese. The rapid increase has triggered alarm because obesity is linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

In the new study, Elsie Taveras of Harvard Medical School and her colleagues studied 559 mothers and their babies living in the Boston area participating in Project Viva, an ongoing study of pregnant women and their children. Those that gained weight quickly during their first six months of life were about 40 percent more likely to be obese by age 3, the researchers reported this week in the journal Pediatrics. That's after the researchers took other into account other factors that might affect the child's weight, such as socioeconomic status and the weight of mothers during their pregnancy. It didn't seem to make a difference whether babies were breast or bottle-fed.

The researchers stressed that the findings should not prompt parents to put newborns on diets. But they indicate that more research is needed to understand what constitutes healthy weight gain among newborns.

As for obesity among older children, one answer could be as simple as the hallway water fountain. Another study in the same issue of Pediatrics found that students attending schools in Germany where water fountains were installed and teachers encouraged their students to use them were about 30 percent less likely to be overweight. The idea is that drinking water may reduce intake of soda or snacks.

By Rob Stein  |  April 2, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , Motherhood , Obesity  
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Hi, Rob! I found that water-fountain study intriguing because it completely contradicts my pediatrician's advice: NEVER let your kids drink from a school or public water fountain! This advice was offered at a time when one of my kids was getting strep throat every other week, and the doctor was adamant that I send her to school with bottled water instead of allowing her to drink from the fountains. Still, the point remains that water's better than soda or whatever, right?

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | April 2, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Does this include preemies? I'm pretty sure they're supposed to gain a lot of weight in the first six months. Please tell me the study was adjusted for that...

Posted by: Monagatuna | April 2, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm guessing the pediatrician that tell you not to drink from water fountains also prescribes antibiotics for viral infections in order to appease over protective parents who are insistent that some form of medication be dispensed when their precious child is sick.

Parents who try to hide their children from all germs are actually doing their children a disservice because their child's immune system will not be nearly as strong as a child who is exposed to germs and gets sick from time to time.

Posted by: wolfcastle | April 2, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

As a mother of two preemies, I would second Monagatuna's comment. My first thought on reading this was to think how much time and energy I've put into getting any baby fat onto my kids' bodies.

I worked very hard for that baby fat, and my daughter is a very slender toddler. (My month-old son is still skinny enough to look like he's starving.)

Posted by: marag | April 2, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

This is news to me. I was always under the impression that you feed babies when they are hungry and they can regulate how much they need. In fact, I thought it was good to have a fat baby, esp. if they are breastfed. My two girls plumped up very quickly (to 85-95th percentile at 2 weeks and stayed that way for the first year), but I haven't worried about it because they were babies and breastfed.

I've wondered if a three year old who is 85th percentile for weight (and is supposed to get a cholesterol test) is considered overweight if they are also 85th percentile for height.

Posted by: lwood321 | April 6, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

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