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Friday, February 19, 2010

Study: 'Start Obesity Prevention in the Cradle'

America is obsessed with weight. That's not much of a surprise. We're either too thin or too fat, but either way, we're a nation obsessed.

Recently American doctors released a new study that determined the following:
The "critical period for preventing childhood obesity" in the children observed in the study would have been in "the first two years of life and for many by three months of age," said the study, published in Clinical Pediatrics.
Wait a minute. Three months of age?

I have a problem with this study (LOL I said that about the last one!) - unless you're one of those rare moms (or dads) who is feeding your baby pureed pork rinds, at three months most babies are not even on solid foods yet. They are either completely breastfed or on formula (or a combination of the two). The study found that a quarter of the kids in the study had a weight problem 'at or before three months of age.'

I see visions of growth charts dancing in my head...growth percentiles that mean nothing, basically. Most pediatricians will tell you that the charts don't mean a whole lot (at least mine does) and that "Every baby is different!" And even more parents will tell you that their child was a huge chub at 6 months old and is skinny as a beanpole now as a grade schooler.

There are so many things this study (or at least the article) didn't even mention: the eating habits of the parents or family, exercise or activity level and genetic make up of the parents, namely. And an April 2009 study done by the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Children's Hospital Boston, found that: 
"The mounting evidence suggests that infancy may be a critical period during which to prevent childhood obesity and its related consequences." 
How, exactly, can you prevent obesity in a three-month-old? Refuse to nurse him? Withhold that extra jar of peas? Give me a freaking break.

The Harvard-based group found data from another study that had this to say:

"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). (My emphasis) 
Really? Wow. Read on:

While this study confirms earlier ones examining the relation between infancy and childhood weight, there were certain limitations. For example, the researchers weren't able to examine social and behavioral interactions around feeding between parents and infants. And while families in the study represented various ethnic backgrounds, they were fairly homogeneous socioeconomically, so there may be some question regarding how widely the results can be generalized.
This admission alone tells me that this research is somewhat flawed. Like, what are the eating habits of the parents? Do they emphasize good nutrition in their youngsters, or do they have a pantry full of juice boxes, kid sized vienna sausages and macaroni and cheese on standby 24/7? Do they come from cultures where more fattening foods are the norm, or are they vegetarians? Do they have the finances to eat strictly organic (which is, by and large more expensive than convenience foods) or do they have a lifestyle that often necessitates 'eating on the run,' where nutritious meals might be harder to come by? Basically their findings tell me nothing, other than babies who weigh the same at birth aren't necessarily going to weigh the same when they're three. I wonder how much money their study spent to come to that stunning conclusion?

Some mention 'missed satiety cues,' basically meaning some parents are overfeeding their babies and causing weight gain because they can't tell when their baby is full. Well, maybe, but I'm not sure I buy that, either. Infants, unlike adults, will not eat when they're not hungry (at least none of my three would). They don't have the 'clean plate club' mentality at three months old, and you can offer the breast, bottle or 20 jars of baby food and they're not going to eat it if they're not hungry. Whether they turn their heads or push it away with the wave of a chubby hand, they'll refuse it. Too much formula or breastmilk? I'll bite the nipple (or your nipple!) mom, to tell you I'm not interested. Or barf it all back up on you. How can you miss that?

The words 'breastmilk' or 'formula' don't show up anywhere in the article, either. So we aren't told what kind of diet these kids had, if you could even call it that, since most experts tell us it's better to delay introducing solids until six months or older. And studies have also shown that breastfed infants are usually thinner than their formula-fed counterparts.

The study goes on to say that things like appropriate weight gain in pregnancy are factors to consider, but they are still trying to understand some of their findings. Interestingly enough, pregnant women are generally heavier than they were say, 30 years ago, when women often dieted heavily in order to prevent having 'large' babies, which not only produced smaller babies, but did potential harm to them. Can we achieve a common middle ground here? What's too much? What isn't enough?

With the emphasis already placed on the pressure to be thin in our culture, I find these kinds of studies more harmful than helpful. The White House is 'cracking down' on obesity, especially in children, and the Obama girls have been placed under a microscope for being called 'chubby' by their parents (as if they aren't under one already just by virtue of being the First Family). I fear that studies like this will serve to scare parents who want desperately to be the best parents they can be by feeding them (no pun intended) questionable data or just plain misinformation that has no clear result or solution.

More interesting information can be found here: Average growth patterns of breastfed babies, including comprehensive growth charts that compare boys and girls, according to both CDC and World Health Organization data Baby Denied Health Coverage Because of A Pre-existing Condition: Obesity

From the article:

"I could understand if we could control what he's eating. But he's 4 months old. He's breast-feeding. We can't put him on the Atkins diet or on a treadmill," joked his frustrated father, Bernie Lange, a part-time news anchor at KKCO-TV in Grand Junction. "There is just something absurd about denying an infant."

Because his dad's a news anchor, you can bet that had something - everything - to do with this story being picked up the national news media. And the insurance company, when pressured, reversed their stance. Imagine that.


Heather Griffith Brewer said...

I wonder what kind of impact early cereal feeding has in some of these studies? Around here it seems that many parents are bulking up formula by adding cereal, even as early as one week. And they brag about it, like their kids a genius because they're eating(drinking?)cereal! However, I think it's impossible to single out any specific thing without considering the habits and genetics of the parents. Breastfed babies do tend to be "healthier" kids, but many parents who breastfeed are healthier eaters themselves, and often make healthier lifestyle choices.

The Deranged Housewife said...

Well, I breastfeed and yet I managed to polish off the rest of the brownies last night ... and then lied about it when my husband asked me where they went ... LMAO!

(I wish it were really possible to LMAO. Oh well.)

Anyway, I honestly think that the reason I have some digestive problems (Crohn's disease, colitis) is because my mother introduced solids too early. I asked her why (I was around a month old) and she said she didn't know, it 'just seemed like the thing to do.' I think many people do it just because they're under the impression that it'll make the baby sleep longer at night. I'm like, 'It's an infant, it's *supposed* to wake up at night!' *sigh*

Do you know if there are studies done to correlate the start of solids with the prevalence of severe food allergies? It seems everyone has a peanut allergy these days, a good portion of them life-threatening! Which I find bizarre and scary.

I apologize for all the bizarre formatting in my post - Blogger is notorious for that and it drives me nuts. I'm trying to resist the urge to go back and change it. LOL