One-Third of 9-Month Old Babies Are Obese or Overweight

So says a new study, at any rate

By Alex Eichler
JANUARY 4, 2011

According to a study in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, 32 percent of 9-month-old babies are obese or overweight, as are 34 percent of 2-year-olds. The study compares data for 7,500 American babies born in 2001, and finds that among each age group, nearly a third of the babies were fell into weight ranges analogous to the adult categories of “overweight” and “obese.” Moreover, the study found that babies who are obese or overweight at nine months are more likely to maintain their high weight by age two. In other words, it seems to put them on a track. Here’s a closer look at what the study found, and how people are taking the news:

How the Study Was Conducted Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience explains that the researchers examined “data on 8,900 babies at nine months and 7,500 of those same babies at 2 years. (Some families moved out of the country or didn’t respond to the second round of surveys.) The researchers classified the babies’ weights based on CDC growth charts, which compare a baby’s growth to a standardized growth curve. Kids in the 95th percentile of weight were categorized as ‘obese,’ while kids in the 85th to 95th percentile were counted as ‘at-risk,’ similar to the adult category of ‘overweight.'”

Obesity Starts Early The study “hints at an unfortunate pattern,” writes Pappas. “Kids who start out heavier end up heavier.” Pappas cites figures showing that of the obese 9-month-olds in the study, “only 37.6 percent were normal weight at age 2. Just over 18 percent did improve to the at-risk category, but 43.9 percent remained obese.” Brian Moss, a sociologist at Wayne State University and the lead researcher on the study, told LiveScience that “if you were overweight at nine months old, it really kind of sets the stage for you to remain overweight at two years.”

But Kids Can Lose Weight Fairly Easily Linda Carroll at MSNBC notes that even though many of the overweight babies stayed overweight, there was also a fair amount of fluctuation: “Some of the chunkiest 9-month-olds had shed their excess pounds by the time they were 2. During the same time frame, however, some of the normal-weight infants had gained too much weight.” Carroll quotes Dr. Goutham Rao of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who says that “in that age group weight is a lot more fluid than it is in an obese 14-year-old … and that means that these children are not necessarily condemned to be obese.”

How Did This Happen? Lots of ways. Rao notes that “you would be surprised at some of the foods and drinks kids are given … You see a lot of very young children eating French fries, because that’s what their parents are eating. Sometimes you’ll even see parents putting regular soda into a baby’s bottle.” Pappas quotes Dr. David McCormick of the University of Texas Medical Branch, who says by way of example: “Improper early introduction of cereal by adding it to an infant’s bottle promotes obesity.”

What Can Be Done? Again, lots of things. “Exclusive breastfeeding–breastfeeding alone, not breastfeeding combined with bottle-feeding–prevents obesity,” says McCormick. “Getting enough fiber–eating apples instead of drinking apple juice, for example–also helps keep babies on track to a healthy weight.” Carroll writes that “when it’s time to introduce solid foods, lean heavily on pureed vegetables and fruits.” And Moss, noting that “Hispanic babies” and “babies in families of low socioeconomic status” are at the highest risk for being overweight, sees the opportunity for policy change, recommending “health education and other interventions to the populations that need them,” according to Pappas.

But Watch Out, warns Meghan Keane at Crushable: “Anorexic babies, coming soon to a home near you. Wayne State University is going to give American babies a weight complex.”