Baby Fat Or Just Plain 'Ol Fat?

August 10, 2006

Babies today are 59 percent more likely to be obese than in 1980, according to a Harvard Medical School study mentioned in HealthDay News. The weight gain is due to the fact that mothers are heavier than ever before, an increase in type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes among expectant mothers and babies fed formula rather than breastmilk.

(Harvard Researcher Dr. Matthew) Gillman said early weight gain can have dire consequences for long-term health. Studies suggest that gaining excess weight during the first months of life is associated with becoming overweight and developing high blood pressure years later. Other data suggests that infants who gain excess weight are more likely to suffer from wheezing, which can lead to asthma, Gillman noted.

“We need to think about preventing obesity at the very early stages of life,” he said. “Women need to maintain exclusive breast-feeding for at least four to six months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” he said.

Well, my son was a butterball when I nursed him. My pediatrician told me not to worry that he was in the 90th percentile in weight. He slimmed down once I relied on solid foods and formula. Then again, he was a lot more active, too.

Surely, the weight is more problematic if the babies never lose it. While I don’t restrict my son’s diet — except for the obvious like no soda and very little candy — I am concerned about the obesity rate in this country because I have witnessed the consequences firsthand. My mom almost died in childbirth with my youngest sister because she was morbidly obese and had gestational diabetes. My sister was born a month premature.

To this day, my dear mom struggles with obesity, type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems related to the extra weight. It’s heartbreaking to watch her lose her breath just trying to pick up her grandson. I worry about her constantly and what this means for my own family’s health. Is this something I can pass on to my son, even though I am a health food nut, desperately trying to avoid it? My husband’s grandmother also has diabetes — which she developed later in life.

Rather than scare people, the best thing public health officials can do is reinforce common sense — which isn’t always easy to do in this fast-paced and consumer-oriented society — and make sure workplaces are accommodating as well: time for exercise, a well-balanced meal, including in workplace cafeterias, and education, education, and more education. Because there are so many dieting schemes out there, we should be able to get straight facts from our public health officials on what is a properly nutritional meal and appropriate portions. My poor mom did not know any of this until the doctor diagnosed her with diabetes and sent her to Weight Watchers.

Ditto with promoting nursing. I am all for encouraging breastfeeding, but we need to make sure there is ample hospital support and workplaces accommodate nursing moms as well.