More Parents Putting Babies on Diets

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Research Reveals: Babies

baby photo

A chubby baby used to be considered healthy, but now is often looked at as a health risk waiting to happen. Credit: Keith Brofsky, Getty Images

It used to be that a pudgy baby was a joy to behold, with chubby cheeks just begging to be pinched by grandmas and strangers alike.

Yet, with the growing trend of childhood obesity, more and more parents are reportedly putting their babies on diets, according to ABC's "Good Morning America."

One in 10 U.S. children younger than 2 is overweight, a statistic that has doubled over the past two decades, Time magazine reports. But although childhood obesity has become a major public health concern, many parents seem to be obsessing about their child's weight because of their own struggles with obesity, not their child's.

"I have seen parents putting their infant and 1-year-old on diets because of history in one parent or another," Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, chair of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, tells ABC.

In an extreme case earlier this year in Washington state, a couple was found guilty of starving their baby by putting laxatives in her bottle so she wouldn't gain weight. ABC reports the couple did it out of vanity, because they feared their daughter would grow up to be overweight like her father.

"There are some parents who are very pleased when their children are thin; a lot of fathers, even -- they're like 'Yes! My daughter's thin!' " Dr. Blair Hammond, a pediatrician at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, tells ABC.

One mother, Jodi Hasan, tells ABC she's fearful every day that Maya, her 1-and-a-half-year-old daughter, will grow up to be overweight, since Hasan has struggled with her weight her entire life.

"I don't want her to have any of the problems that I had -- the self-consciousness, the health issues -- I want her to have a good self-esteem," she tells ABC.

Hasan tells ABC she carefully designs each of Maya's meals to include fruits and vegetables and admits she wasn't concerned when her daughter didn't show any weight gain at her last checkup -- even though she is in the healthy 25th percentile for weight.

During a visit with Hammond, Hasan admits to scooping out Maya's bagel. "No, don't scoop out her bagel; give her the whole bagel," Hammond instructs.

But Hasan says she does worry about her obsession with Maya's weight affecting her daughter.

"As she gets older, I have to control myself from telling her what to do," she tells ABC. "She has to make her own decisions. It's important to live long and be healthy, but hopefully it won't be important for her to think about it every day, the way I think about it every day."

This trend is alarming on its own, but even more so in light of a study released earlier this week by Pediatrics, which found that the number of children younger than 12 who were hospitalized for eating disorders increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.

Further, Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' senior health and medical editor, reports that very few children with eating disorders actually end up in the hospital.

Parental anxiety about chubby babies may be linked to a 2009 study that showed rapid weight gain in the first weeks and months of infancy predicts obesity and high blood pressure in childhood and adulthood, ABC reports

"We need to stop the notion that fat, cuddly, cute babies are a good thing," Bhatia tells ABC.

But the answer, Bhatia tells the network, is not to put your baby on a diet. Rather, he suggests breast-feeding as the best start for a baby, along with close monitoring by the pediatrician. Breast-fed babies tend to gain weight faster early on, he says, but slow down in the next six months, while formula-fed babies tend to continue the rapid weight gain as a result of overfeeding or inappropriate feeding by their parents.

Besser says it's about learning to respond to cues.

"Babies have an internal set-point, so if they're hungry, they'll eat, and when they're not hungry, they'll stop," he says. "And when parents respond to that and feed their babies when they're hungry and then stop when they're not, that's great."

However, Besser cautions new parents not to use a bottle to deal with crying for any reason. If a child has just been fed and is crying, he says you want to make sure they're not wet or tired or just want to be hugged.

"You have to realize every time a child cries isn't necessarily a call for food," Besser says. "But a child who's listening to those cues and is chubby, and is growing on their curve, that's great -- that's a happy, healthy baby -- and you want to reduce the anxiety that a parent may have around that."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.