Is My Fat Baby Too Fat?

baby200 Can a baby be too fat?  Dr. Matthew Gillman, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School who is looking hard at the very youngest for clues to the roots of obesity, says yes.   He’s been tracking the vital statistics of well-fed babies and toddlers born and raised in eastern Massachusetts over the last 22 years.  Accurate length and weight measurements, used in conjunction with growth charts, help pediatricians spot possible problems early.  

 “Excess or accelerated weight gain even in the first four or six months of life may be setting up kids for overweight, for higher blood pressure, maybe even for asthma over the first years in childhood, ” Gillman’s research suggests that the percentage of children under age 2 who top the weight charts is going higher with every generation.  Many reasons underlie those extra pounds, he says, and some are surprising:

  • If a mother smokes during pregnancy, for example, she’s at risk of having an extra-small newborn who then grows up to be an overweight child.
  • Babies who didn’t get enough sleep tended to pack on unneeded ounces that soon added up to unneeded pounds.
  •  Kids who got less than 11 hours of sleep were at more than 50 percent higher risk for developing overweight by the age of 3 compared to those infants who slept more than 13 hours a day according to his research.

However – Big Reality Check:  “All babies have their baby fat until they get to 3 or 4 or 5 years old,” Dr. Gillman points out. “So it really is important to get an accurate weight and especially length measurements on the growth chart. That’s how we compare your child to every other of the same sex and age.”

It’s also not a good idea to cut back on the child’s calories and fat too soon.  Cells that surround budding brain cells need fat to support and nurture them.  Gillman says that’s one of the reasons the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that even after children switch from breast milk to cow’s milk, they should continue drinking whole milk until they’re 2 or so, and only then switch to nonfat or 1 percent milk.

 The takeaway: Putting on pounds quickly is normal for a baby, but putting on too many pounds too quickly is not. It take an expert pediatrician’s eye and experience to know the difference, so consult your family pediatrician.

(thanks to Deborah Franklin at NPR (npr.org) for her reporting on this story)

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