Rapid infant weight gain may predict childhood obesity

November 13, 2001

Researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia find that rapid rates of weight gain during infancy could be linked to obesity later in childhood. Studying a large, diverse cohort of U.S. children, researchers found that rapid weight gain during the first four months of life was significantly associated with an increased risk of being overweight at age 7, regardless of birth weight and weight at 1 year.

Nicolas Stettler, M.D., M.C.S.E., a pediatric nutrition specialist at Children's Hospital, presented the results at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, Calif., on November 13, 2001. The study looked at data for 19,000 children who were born at term gestation between 1959 and 1965 in 12 U.S. cities. The authors used the presently recommended definition for overweight status -- a sex-specific body mass index that is greater than 95 percent of the U.S. population at any given age.

The study found that with even a modest increase in weight gain of 100 extra grams per month during infancy, the risk of being overweight at age 7 was raised by more than 25%. Starting with a birth weight of 7 pounds (3.2 kg), those 100 extra grams per month would result in a weight at age four months of approximately 14 pounds (6.4 kg), compared to approximately 13 pounds (6.0 kg) under a normal pattern of weight gain.

"Early infancy seems to be a critical period for the establishment of obesity," said Dr. Stettler. "Babies double their weight during the first four to six months, so this may be a period for the establishment of weight regulation." A rapid rate of early weight gain may also be related to cardiovascular disease later in life; both conditions often cluster in individuals.

In the past, infancy has not been targeted for obesity prevention, and at this time there are no effective and safe intervention strategies in infancy for the prevention of later obesity. The researchers make no recommendations for treatment. However, they suggest that a focus on early infancy may lead to new hypotheses regarding the origins of childhood obesity and to new approaches to preventing obesity during infancy. Recommendations for feeding have changed since the 1960s when children were introduced to solid foods at an earlier age, which could explain some of the weight gain seen in the study.
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The study was supported by the Nutrition Center of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and co-authors include: Babette Zemel, Ph.D.; Shiriki Kumanyika, Ph.D., M.P.H,; and Virginia A. Stallings, M.D.

Founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is ranked today as the best pediatric hospital in the nation by a comprehensive Child magazine survey. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children's Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country, ranking second in National Institutes of Health funding. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 381-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents from before birth through age 19.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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