updated 2/17/2011 10:48:56 AM ET 2011-02-17T15:48:56

Signs of impending obesity are showing up in babies as young as nine months, found one of the first studies to look at weight concerns in the first two years of life.

About a third of barely crawling infants are overweight or at risk for being obese, according to the study. And weighing too much at nine months increases the chances of weighing too much in the child's early years.

While no one is suggesting that parents put their infants on diets to get rid of those adorable rolls, the findings might help researchers identify kids at risk for obesity as early in life as possible.

"I don't think anyone is willing to say that if your kids are overweight at nine months, they're doomed to be obese adults," said Brian Moss, a sociologist at Wayne State University in Detroit. "One of the things we're looking at is whether there are maybe life circumstances between nine months and two years that can influence the odds of a child becoming an undesirable weight."

"It could be the time when people introduce table foods, the quality or quantity of table foods, or the types of things they're exposed to," he said. "It could be the type of childcare or changes in their parents' employment status. Maybe certain types of foods are more expensive. Or there might be cultural differences that we didn't look into. It's pretty complex."

Over the last decade, rates of obesity have risen dramatically in adults, teens, and kids, warranting plenty of concern and attention from public health experts. Obesity early in life raises the risk of heart problems, psychological distress, diabetes and other health concerns. Obese kids are also likely to become obese adults.

Several studies have looked at risk factors for obesity in kids as young as five. Moss and colleagues wanted to know what was happening in the preschool years or even earlier.

Their study tapped into a long-term database of more than 10,000 children who were born throughout the United States in 2001. Between birth and kindergarten, kids were weighed and measured four times. Moss' team looked at data from the nine-month-old and two-year-old visits. With statistical methods, they extrapolated their findings to represent millions of kids around the country.

Using growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers lumped kids into one of three groups. Children were considered normal weight if they came in below the 85th percentile on a measurement that considers weight in relation to height. Children between the 85th and 95th percentiles were classified as overweight. Kids who were in the 95th percentile or above were, for the sake of the study, considered obese -- a term not usually used for kids under two.

Overall, 15 percent of the babies were overweight at nine months, and 17 percent were obese at that age, the researchers report today in the American Journal of Health Promotion. By age two, 14 percent were overweight and 21 percent were obese.

Hispanic children and kids who ranked low on socioeconomic status were most likely to weigh too much at such young ages. Risk was lowest in Asians and Pacific Islanders. Boys were more likely to be too plump than girls were.

The researchers were particularly interested in what happened between babyhood and toddlerhood. They found that plenty of kids changed weight categories as they grew, with some bulking up and others thinning out. But the chubbiest babies were most likely to stay that way.

Specifically, 62 percent of the "obese" babies were overweight or obese at age two. By comparison, 48 percent of the overweight babies and 24 percent of the normal-weight babies weighed too much at their toddler visits.

The findings emphasize the need for doctors and policy makers to focus on early childhood in their research and obesity prevention efforts, said Susan Woolford, medical director of the Pediatric Comprehensive Weight Management Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

"As children get older and are obese for longer, they are more likely to be obese as adults," she said. "If we can intervene at an earlier stage before many years of being obese and before kids have the chance to develop the comorbidities that go along with obesity, that would be advantageous."

As for parents, there is no need to put your chubby baby on a low-fat diet. Instead, the new study, along with previous work, suggests that influences on a child's weight may begin prenatally with how a mother eats and how much weight she gains during pregnancy. After birth, parents may want to look at their own lifestyle and diet choices.

"For parents, the message has to be a balanced and healthy approach to feeding children," Woolford said. "At the earliest stages, there needs to be a focus on helping parents create the right environment to create healthy children."

© 2012 Discovery Channel


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments