Do Fat Babies Make Fat Adults?
Listen in on a group of adults cooing over a baby, and undoubtedly they will admire the baby's chubby cheeks, arms and legs. But how do you know if your baby is getting too chubby? And can a baby's weight be an indicator of weight gain as an adult?
"I do not think there is necessarily a correlation with baby size and whether or not they'll be larger in the long run," says Dr. John Dahmen of Kaiser Pediatrics in Santa Rosa.
"Focusing on the weight isn't as good an idea as focusing on nutrition," he explains. "I think that it is such an important topic in the first two years of life, in terms of how to approach nutrition and avoid pitfalls such as juice and junk food at an early age."
Doctors are finding that weight gain alone isn't an indicator of potential health problems in children; it is the ratio of weight gain to height, as well as early eating habits that can set a child up for weight and health issues later in life.
"We see babies a lot the first two years of life, and we get a very good idea of weight, looking at their 'growth curve,' where they've been and where their going, not just one spot in time," says Dr. Dahmen. "You always have to compare their height and weight, because if you have a child in the 95th percentile of height, you would expect them to be in the 95th percetile of weight. But if you have a baby in the fifth percentile in height, meaning they are short, but they are in the 95th percentile of weight, that is an overweight baby," explains Dr. Dahmen.
The main thing for parents to remember is that any concerns about your baby's weight—whether too much or too little—should be expressed to your doctor first before making any changes to your baby's diet.
If you believe your baby is overweight, restricting calories—by diluting formula, limiting feedings, or giving your baby reduced-fat milk—is a very dangerous practice and can negatively affect your child's development. Any dietary changes should be first approved by your doctor.
Once your baby starts eating solid foods, around 9–12 months, it is important to start healthy eating habits for your child. Stay away from high fat or sugar foods, like juices, and avoid easy fixes like fast food and sugary cereals. And if your child balks at trying different foods, stand firm.
"Parents have to think more about food for their children. It is extremely rare that a child is going to starve because they refuse to eat what's healthy for them," says Dr. Dahmen. "They'll eventually begrudgingly eat some [healthy food] in order to get the cookie that they want, but at least they'll get some nutrition."
If you start early enough, you can teach your child to eat foods that are healthier for them, especially if unhealthy foods aren't available. Teaching your children healthy habits, starting when they are very young, is one of the best things parents can do to help prevent their children from becoming obese adults.