The last three decades have witnessed the rapid increased incidence in obesity and scientists and health experts are scrambling to come up with ways and means to stop and reverse this trend. Recently, more and more evidence points to the fact that the problem of excess weight starts rather early in life. A recent study by Boston researchers suggests that the rate of weight gain during the first months of a baby’s life is a predictor of its risk for obesity later in life.
According to lead author Dr. Elsie Taveras, assistant professor in the Harvard Medical School Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention
“There is increasing evidence that rapid changes in weight during infancy increase children’s risk of later obesity. The mounting evidence suggests that infancy may be a critical period during which to prevent childhood obesity and its related consequences.”
Dr. Taveras is also the co-director of the One Step Ahead Clinic, a pediatric overweight prevention program at Children’s Hospital Boston.
Previous studies on obesity risk concentrated on infants’ body weights. The current study took into account that weight gain is a dynamic process associated with growth, looked further and measured growth rates, e.g. weight gain, body length, and weight-for-length gain.
The connection between rapid infant weight gain and later obesity was striking, even after adjusting for factors such as premature babies or those underweight at birth. Take for example two infants with the same birth weight who, after six months, weigh 7.7 kg (16.9 pounds) and 8.4 kg (18.4 pounds), a 0.7 kg (1.5 pounds) difference. According to study estimates, the heavier of these two infants would have a 40% higher risk of obesity at age 3 (after adjusting for potential confounders).
Previous studies indicated that there is some confusion from infants’ growth charts, and that parents tend to be wrong in judging their children’s weight. Another study suggested that the “tipping point” for childhood obesity can be as early as age 2. The currents study indicates that weight gain in children should be managed appropriately as early as possible.
“At first it may seem implausible that weight gain over just a few months early in infancy could have long-term health consequences, but it makes sense because so much of human development takes place during that period-and even before birth,” says Matthew Gillman, director of the department’s Obesity Prevention Program. “Now we need to find out how to modify weight gain in infancy in ways that balance the needs of the brain and the body.”