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Infant Weight Gain May Predict Obesity

Studies Show Links Between Early Weight Gain and Risk of Adult Obesity
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'How Big Should My Baby Be?'

Obesity prevention researcher Matthew W. Gillman, MD, of Harvard Medical School tells WebMD that rapid weight gain after age 2 or 3 is now generally recognized as a risk factor for later obesity.

He adds that there is "mounting evidence" that the same is true for rapid weight gain in the first few months or even weeks of life, but the link has not been proven.

In an editorial published with the studies, Gillman called for studies to directly address the question.

"All parents want to know, 'How big should my baby be?'" he writes. "Researchers, clinicians and the public health community need to be able to respond not only to that question, but also to the follow-up challenge of what we can do to ensure that babies are the right size."

Gillman says early-life interventions that may prove to make a difference in later obesity risk include:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life. Since it is very hard to overfeed a baby fed only breast milk, Gillman says reducing obesity risk later in life may be yet another benefit of exclusive breastfeeding.
  • No early solid foods. There is some evidence that introducing solid foods before the age of 4 months may increase the risk for obesity later in childhood, Gillman says.
  • Know your baby's satiety signals. Especially important for bottle-fed babies, recognizing when your baby is hungry and when she is crying for other reasons can minimize overfeeding.

Talk to your pediatrician about other tips on your baby's feeding and growth.

"We don't know that these interventions make a difference in later obesity risk, but we do know that they are widely recommended for other reasons," Gillman says.

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