The prevalence of obesity in American children and adolescents has increased over the last 30 years and now it seems that infants are at risk as well. In the most basic sense, obesity is defined as having too much body fat. In adults, Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to determine if a person’s body fat is in the appropriate range based on their height. In children and babies, obesity is determined using standardized growth charts.
Obesity can be caused by some uncontrolled factors such as genetics and family history, socioeconomic status, medical conditions, and in some cases, emotional issues. In most cases, however, obesity largely results when there is an imbalance between the number of calories consumed and the number expended. A child, for instance, who eats a supersized fast food meal and then sits in front of the television for two hours has consumed a large number of calories but not expended the energy necessary to burn the calories.
In any population, obesity increases the risk of other health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes to name a few. Infants at risk for obesity are likely to be obese as children and into adulthood. Lots of people gravitate to a plump, rosy-cheeked baby, but new mothers who may be concerned about their baby being too plump should raise the concern with their pediatrician.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) officials warn that the increase in obesity in children is a serious issue and warn that without swift action, children might begin to live shorter lifespans than their parents. In America, fighting obesity in infants and children would involve not only dietary changes but cultural and social shifts as well. The first thing the expectant mother can do is to watch her weight gain. Sometimes the pregnancy weight contributes to the birth weight and large gains could cause gestational diabetes, another cause of concern for both mother and baby.
Though there are conflicting reports about breastfeeding and its role in reducing the incidence of infant obesity, most healthcare professionals agree that breastfeeding, as long as possible, can provide babies with innumerable health benefits. New mothers should steer clear of introducing sugary juices too early in the baby’s diet. Some doctors warn that juice should not be introduced in the first 6 months except to aid in relieving constipation.
Another preventive measure is delaying the introduction of solid foods. Many new mothers add cereal and baby food to the infant diet much too soon, increasing the baby’s appetite for more and more food. Eating healthy balanced meals free of large quantities of processed foods and inclusive of fresh fruits and vegetables is good for the baby (develops healthy eating habits early) and for other family members as well.
Finally, there are some social and cultural habits that new mothers can adopt to help decrease the occurrence of obesity in children. Doctors advise limiting television and encouraging physical activity. It is reported that children from six months to six years of age watch an average of two hours of television a day while their older counterparts spend over seven hours a day watching TV, texting or on social media. From an early age, children should learn the value of getting plenty of exercise.
Obesity in America continues to be a concern. Poor diet choices and lack of physical activity have contributed to what CDC officials term a national epidemic. Obesity can cause or exacerbate other serious medical conditions including heart disease and diabetes, in adults, children and teens. It now appears that infants are at risk for obesity as well.
By Constance Spruill