Can We See Trend Towards Obesity at 2 Months Old?

Growth patterns in infants as young as 2 months old can predict body weight at age five, a  study suggests. Normal-weight babies with a body mass index (BMI) in the 17 percentile were found to have plateaued at around two months and rarely differed over the next five years. Overweight or obese babies crossed the 17 percentile many months later—at about 14 months–and continued an upward climb thereafter.

obesity_trend_babiesThe study involved 221 children, each with data on height, weight and medical records from nine ‘well visits’ over the first five years of their lives. None of the children had special medical conditions, were hospitalized or visited the emergency room and they were all considered “healthy.” Unique to the study, the researchers had access to maternal health records, with information about the mothers’ pre-pregnancy weights and smoking status. The researchers suspect, based on previous research, that how a mother ate during pregnancy might have contributed to the baby’s hormones and the ability to satisfy the baby’s hunger.

The study used a new method of tracking the growth of babies. Instead of using BMI, they used their weight divided by height.  Through graphing these data points, the researchers found that there was a pattern in both boys and girls known to be obese at age five. At ages as young as 2 – 4 months old, the babies began to show significantly higher weight/height ratios than normal weight babies. Because babies are not eating solid foods yet at this age, these patterns may provide important information about a person’s future health issues independent of diet. Currently obesity is diagnosed at age two or later, but the findings could possibly lower the age at which obesity is typically diagnosed. Further research could look at whether a baby is fed on demand or a schedule, whether the baby has breast milk or formula, the amount of milk a baby receives, and patterns of sleep and awake activity. The study was published in Clinical Pediatrics.

Chicago bariatric surgeon, Dr. Vafa Shayani, said: “In the fight against obesity, every little bit counts.  The authors have suggested that as early as 2 months of age, clinicians might be able to predict if a child will go on to become obese.  What the study (appropriately) does not claim is shedding any light on the exact cause and effect relationship between the weight to height ratio of an infant and the subsequent development of obesity.  Possible explanations include genetic predisposition, feeding tendencies, and the choice of feedings (breast milk vs. formula), to just name a few.”

Dr Shayani told us that if the results of this study are going to have any clinical implications, one would have to identify appropriate methods of intervention to prevent the inevitable.  “For that to happen, we will need further sophisticated investigations that would not only identify the mechanism of progression from a larger than “17 percentile” infant to a morbidly obese child/adult, but also identify the appropriate methods to stall such progression.  The authors have scratched the surface and for that, they should be congratulated,” he concluded.

Related Reading:

According to a recent study, a mother’s consumption of  junk food during pregnancy can cause changes in the development of the opioid signaling pathway in the brain of her unborn child, which essentially creates a higher “tolerance” to junk food in the child. You can read more about the study here.

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