Kimberly Garrison: Parents' bad feeding habits add up to infant obesity

Posted: January 13, 2011

LAST WEEK, a study was released that found a whopping one-third of American babies are either overweight or obese at as young as 9 months.

I heard this shocking data when I caught Matt Lauer's interview on the "Today" show with Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

"The solution is not to put babies on diets," he said, diplomatically suggesting that families and pediatricians need to learn how to distinguish hunger cues from boredom, annoyance and other emotions babies display.

That is to say, every cry is not a cry for food, so please stop overfeeding your baby.

Just two years ago, when my son was an infant (and I was exclusively breast-feeding), well-intentioned women would advise me, to my horror, to put a little cereal in his bottle to make him sleep longer. The thought being that this would allow me and my husband to get some extra sleep.

I would thank them for their good intentions, and I never even bothered to admonish them about the dangers of that practice, which - among other things - can kill an infant's intuitive eating response and potentially cause the baby to aspirate, or even worse, die.

Surely this seemingly innocuous practice is part of the problem of infant obesity - which has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

As if that were not enough, I have seen plenty of friends and family feeding their infants solid food before the recommended 6 months. I've even seen people feed their infants pieces of a hoagie, then wash it all down with Pepsi in the baby's bottle!

As outrageous as that may sound, it is all too common.

An extensive study of 8,000 infants starting in 2001 came to some troubling conclusions recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. The study - by Wayne State University's School of Social Work in Detroit and the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan - found that infants whose weight-to-height ratio was above the 95th percentile on standard growth charts at 9 months old were at higher risk for being obese at age 2.

The study also noted, not surprisingly, that obesity in early childhood could lead to obesity in primary and teen years and in adulthood, as well as cause related health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer.

OK, folks, the house is on fire!

Two-thirds of Americans (190 million) are overweight or obese, and so are a third of our babies! Clearly something needs to be done. The question is, what?

Last year, the Obama administration committed $650 million to prevention and wellness programs aimed at combating obesity, and first lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity her personal crusade.

While their efforts are to be commended, the bottom line is that parents must take personal responsibility to feed their children healthy and nutritious meals, while also modeling that behavior.

When it comes to infants, the breast is best. But that also means that nursing moms should eat healthy to ensure that their breast milk is of the highest quality.

If you use formula, avoid overfeeding your baby.

Don't force that last one or two ounces despite obvious clues that the baby's full.

To introduce solid foods, simply steam and puree fresh fruits and vegetables, which will be superior in taste and quality compared with commercial baby food. It's that simple.

Quite honestly, no amount of government money nor support is going to solve our country's weighty issue if individuals are unwilling to make the necessary changes in lifestyle and diet.

In Philadelphia, overall childhood obesity and overweight rates hover around 55 percent, with North Philadelphia at an alarming 70 percent, according to pediatrician Dr. Donald Schwartz, who also serves as a deputy mayor and health commissioner in Philadelphia.

For sure, being a parent is tough, and there are myriad forces that make the job exponentially harder these days. However, we still are responsible for shepherding our children's lives. To me, that means we must model good behaviors, including eating habits and exercise, and provide healthy food options, too. If not parents, who?

Daily News readers, can we continue to ignore the problem? What do you think?

Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1

ultimatefitness.com). E-mail her at

kimberly@1on1ultimatefitness.com. Her column appears each Thursday in Yo!

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