When and how does childhood obesity begin? The question is a big challenge for researchers, who have observed that more than a quarter of US children aged 2 to 5 are now obese. That's worrying because of links between obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
To help find answers, a new study is following babies and their parents from age 2 months to 2 years, tracking the babies' growth and the families' habits around feeding and activity for their little ones. Researchers at four centers around the country have recruited more than 800 baby-parent pairs to participate. The subjects are ethnically diverse and come mostly from low-income households, with 86 percent receiving Medicaid.
Today in Pediatrics, the scientists report the first findings from the project, an analysis of baseline data collected when the babies were 2 months old. The researchers found striking differences in feeding practices and activity patterns along racial and ethnic lines, suggesting that perhaps future efforts to prevent childhood obesity should be culturally tailored for different groups. Stanford's Lee Sanders, MD, is one of the authors of the new paper, though none of the data was collected at Stanford.
Among the findings, Hispanic parents were more likely to encourage babies to finish a bottle and reported less tummy time than white parents; black parents were more likely to put babies to bed with a bottle, prop a bottle in front of a baby with a blanket (instead of holding it as the baby ate), and reported more TV watching for their babies than white parents. The differences persisted after the data was adjusted for possible confounding factors such as family income. It's not clear whether all of these behaviors will be connected to higher obesity rates, but later reports from the same study will give more information about that.
In the study's discussion, the researchers write:
If these behaviors are truly “obesogenic,” however, families from all races and ethnicities studied need early counseling, and the findings here also underscore the likely need for culturally sensitive health behavior counseling during early infancy. Particularly actionable are the specific behaviors that may be most sensitive to culturally adapted interventions: (1) infant exposure to television and other visual media; (2) breastfeeding initiation and exclusivity; and (3) encouraging infants to finish bottles.
Previously: Childhood obesity a risk for imminent heart problems, research shows, Sugar intake, diabetes and kids: Q&A with a pediatric obesity expert and Nutrition and fitness programs help East Palo Alto turn the tide on childhood obesity
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