Researchers found specific practices thought to promote childhood
obesity — from putting infants to bed with bottles to feeding them
while watching television — were more common in certain racial and
ethnic groups compared to others.
"Rather than focus on the ethnic and racial differences, these
results show us that we can all do better and begin our efforts to
prevent obesity earlier in life," lead author Dr. Eliana Perrin told
"I'm hoping this study is a wakeup call that families of all races
and ethnicities need early counseling to lead healthier lives," said
Perrin, a pediatrician and professor at the University of North
Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
More than one quarter of U.S. children aged two to five years old
are overweight or obese, according to Perrin and her coauthors,
whose results are published in Pediatrics.
Early weight problems are linked to an increasing likelihood of
obesity — and all its attendant health risks — as kids grow into
teens and adults (see Reuters Health story of January 29, 2014,
Perrin's team enrolled 863 parents who brought their infants to one
of four university-affiliated pediatric clinics for a two-month-old
preventive services visit. The researchers asked parents about a
variety of behaviors that have been linked to childhood obesity in
Most of the participating parents were mothers and the questions
covered topics including what infants ate, how the food was given to
them, activities parents performed during or around mealtime and
measures of babies' physical activity levels.
The researchers found that more than 80 percent of the
two-month-olds had been introduced to formula, and 12 percent had
been fed solid food, although the American Academy of Pediatricians
(AAP) urges mothers to feed their babies breast milk exclusively for
the first six months.
More than one third of parents reported coaxing their babies to
finish drinking bottles, and nearly a quarter propped bottles in
their infants' cribs or bassinets.
Nearly half the parents reported watching television while feeding
their infants, and 43 percent reported putting their babies to bed
with a bottle.
Half the infants in the study actively watched an average of 25
minutes a day of TV, although the AAP discourages television for
children under the age of two.
"Most pediatricians don't talk about television until a baby is at
least 12 to 15 months old. I think this study tells us we need to
talk about television early on in a baby's life," Perrin said.
"The message should be 'talk with your babies, play with your
babies, allow your babies to begin to prop themselves up in a safe
space, try not to have them watch television and try to notice when
you're feeding them whether they're hungry or full,'" she said.
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Babies who get food every time they cry and are prodded to eat
when they are sated may learn to reach for food whenever they feel
any kind of need, Perrin said.
When the researchers looked at the unhealthy behaviors by racial and
ethnic group, no single group was free of the bad habits, but some
were more common in certain cultures compared to the others.
Hispanic infants watched an average of 11 minutes of television a
day, for example, whereas white children watched an average of 24
minutes and African-American children watched an average of 51
minutes. Less than 4 percent of Hispanic parents had introduced
their infants to solid foods, whereas 16 percent of white mothers
and nearly a quarter of black mothers had.
Compared with white parents, black parents were twice as likely to
put children to bed with a bottle and three times as likely to prop
a bottle on something like a blanket during feeding instead of
Hispanic parents were about twice as likely as whites to encourage
children to finish the contents of the bottle and to prop the
Dr. Alma Guerrero, a pediatrics professor from Mattel Children
Hospital UCLA in California, called the findings on the amount of
time babies spent in front of television "astonishing."
Guerrero agreed the results underscore the need for early counseling
across ethnic groups. "It highlights the point that families from
all races and ethnicities need counseling on early infancy feeding
and activity behaviors," she told Reuters Health.
Guerrero, who was not involved in the current study, recently began
work on a five-year study of dietary behaviors that lead to obesity
in Latino children between six months and five years old. The
results of the current study led Guerrero to consider looking at
even younger babies, she said.
Perrin said she hoped that clinicians could use data from her study
to target counseling for newborn parents based on their ethnic
Pediatrics, online March 17, 2014.
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