- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Like mommy, like baby: Chubby mothers bring up chubby babies, with potentially dire consequences.

Overweight mothers feed their infants more, play with them less and allow them to sleep longer — laying the foundations for childhood obesity from Day One, according to a study released yesterday.

“These infants were fed less frequently and consumed more carbohydrates in a shorter period of time as compared to infants from normal-weight mothers,” noted Dr. Fima Lifshitz, director of pediatrics at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. “These variations in feeding patterns may predispose infants to obesity.”

The number of obese children has quadrupled since the 1980s, according to the American Heart Association, with 16 percent to 20 percent of children younger than 11 classified as seriously overweight.

It can start very early.

Dr. Lifshitz tracked overweight and normal-weight mothers and their babies for a 24-hour period, with the help of childhood nutritionist Dr. Russell Rising.

The heavy moms’ average weight was 187 pounds and height was 5 feet, while the at-range mothers were 126 pounds and 5 feet 2 inches tall. Both groups were allowed to set schedules and choose foods, which included infant formula and extras such as cereal or desserts.

The doctors found major differences in care patterns.

During the testing period, the normal-weight mothers spent 570 minutes on average interacting with their babies; the heavier moms spent 381 minutes. The babies of normal-weight moms slept 682 minutes on average, while those of heavier mothers snoozed for 783 minutes.

The doctors also found that heavier moms fed their infants more formula — and the babies consumed it faster and became hungrier sooner. Three out of four of those babies received extra solid foods; the babies of normal-weight moms received only formula.

“Constant additional caloric intake of those infants born to obese mothers will be manifested as additional body weight gain in later life,” the doctors say in the study published in Nutrition Journal. A portion of the study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Overfed babies have caused concern elsewhere. A study at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia released late last month found that babies who consumed too much formula from well-meaning parents in the first week of life were more likely to grow into overweight adults.

Even tiny appetites can yield big consequences, said Dr. Nicholas Stettler, director of the Philadelphia study. He noted that early eating habits “may set appetite regulation for the future.”

Harvard Medical School, in the meantime, found that women who breast-feed their babies help prevent them from fattening up later. The study of 19,000 children found that breast-fed babies had a 20 percent lower chance of being overweight.

In recent years, breast-feeding in infancy to help stave off adolescent obesity has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.

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