Saturday, August 12, 2006

Obesity panic now extends to babies

Must be all the fizzy drinks and Big Macs that they eat. The findings below do seem to have squeezed out some faint recognition of the fact that your tendency to weight is largely hereditary and that it is now mainly fat working-class women who are having the kids. Heaps of slim bourgeois women now consider themselves too good to marry and have children -- hence proportionately fewer slim children around

With the constant warnings about growing obesity in children and adults alike, it is alarming to find that even babies are getting fatter. A Harvard University study is the first to document the spread of the obesity epidemic in infants. It has reported that in the US state of Massachusetts, children under the age of six have become heavier since 1980, but the risk of being overweight has jumped most for babies under six months.

The findings, published in the journal Obesity, add to concerns that the growing number of children who are born heavy or gain weight quickly in early life are likelier to face future health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and possibly asthma. It may be time for mothers to give up the traditional idea that a fat baby is a healthy baby, said Dr Matthew Gillman, the study's senior author. "We no longer have grave threats to the lives of infants such as diarrhoea … and malnutrition," he said. "Our problem in the 21st century is chronic disease."

But Dr Gillman and others do say that parents should not panic if an infant is heavy. Many lose their baby fat. And breast-feeding has been shown to reduce the risk of infant obesity, said Dr Wendy Slusser, a specialist in childhood obesity. No definitive data has shown that being overweight as an infant means a person will be overweight later on, said Dr Slusser, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California. But, she added, "If we're seeing a trend of a population increasing in size, that does raise questions about their health habits."

Since babies are usually fed only breast milk or formula until five or six months, it seems unlikely that the new figures reflect poor food choices by parents. Rather, the growing prevalence of obesity among the youngest babies may begin in the womb, said Dr Laura Riley, medical director of labour and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Pregnant women in general are more overweight these days," said Dr Riley. "More obese women become pregnant, and more women who are overweight when they become pregnant then gain too much weight during pregnancy."

Obstetricians tend to recommend that normal-weight women gain between 11 and 16 kilograms during pregnancy, while obese women should gain only five to seven kilograms. In general, the study considered children to be overweight if they fell in the top 5 per cent on a measure that divides a child's weight by height. They were considered at risk of becoming overweight if they fell between the 85th and 95th percentile.


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