10. Raise a Lean Baby
Are fat babies destined to become fat adults? Not necessarily, but there is a heavy tendency. A fat infant has a higher chance of becoming a fat child who has an even higher chance of becoming a fat teenager who has an even greater chance of becoming an obese adult. An obese infant has a one in five chance of remaining heavy at age five to eight year. An obese child has twice the chance of becoming an obese adult. An obese teenager has sixteen times the risk of becoming an obese adult. Fat children grow up with a physical, psychological, and emotional disadvantage, in addition to having a higher risk of adult diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Medical studies show that leaner people live longer and healthier lives.
Some babies are more prone to obesity than others. Here are the main risk factors to consider.
It’s in the Genes
Infants are at risk of obesity from what’s in the genes and what’s on the plate. Adopted children tend to follow the weight trends of their biological parents more than those of their adoptive parents. If both parents are obese, the child has an 80 percent chance of becoming obese; if one parent is obese, a 40 percent chance. If neither parent is obese, the child has only a 7 percent chance of being fat. Rather than saying that babies inherit obesity, it is more correct to say that they inherit a tendency toward obesity.
It’s in the Body Build
Besides inheriting a tendency toward fatness or leanness, babies also inherit specific body builds, which are more or less prone to obesity.
Lean and tall “banana” body types (ectomorphs) are taller and lighter than average on the growth chart. Ectomorph babies, recognized even at birth by spindly “piano fingers” and long, slender feet, put more calories into height than weight. Persons with ectomorph body types seem to burn off more calories and better adjust their food intake to their activity level. If they eat a lot, yet don’t gain weight, they are likely to be the envy of their calorie-watching friends.
Stocky babies (mesomorphs, or “apple” body types) have average height and weight, and both height and weight are near the same percentile on the growth chart. These square-shaped babies have a greater tendency toward obesity than their rectangular ectomorph buddies.
Endomorphs (“pear” body types) are short and wide. Of the three body builds, these babies have the greatest chance of becoming overweight or obese. Because of their pear-shaped contour, they carry excess weight the least attractively.
Not all babies are pure body types; some have features of all three.
During a well-baby exam, parents often ask, “Do you think our baby will grow up to be fat?” A doctor is usually above to give them an educated guess by looking at the body builds of the parents and child. If mother and father are both lean, and baby has an ectomorph body type, it is safe to say, “Your child will probably be able to eat all the nutritious foods she wants and not get fat.” Because of this child’s body build and heredity, she will probably not be fat. But if two short, round parents holding a short, round baby as the same question, the doctor would probably counsel these parents that their baby does have an increased tendency to obesity and they should begin preventive measure even in infancy.
It’s in the Temperament
Babies get fat not only by eating too many calories, but also by not burning enough off. Active, fidgety babies tend to burn more calories and have a lower risk of obesity. Easy, mellow, and quiet babies tend to burn more calories and have a lower risk of obesity. Easy mellow, and quiet babies tend to burn fewer calories. “Sitter” tend to have an increased risk of obesity, which is accentuated if this sedentary temperament is prevalent in other family members. A long, lanky, wiry, active baby with similar parents has a slim chance of becoming fat.
Baby Thins Out
Most babies are most chubby around six months of age. Between six and eight months, as babies begin to sit up, crawl, and play, they begin to lean out. From one to two years even more leaning out occurs. Babies walk, run, climb, and earn the name “picky eater.” Between the first and second birthdays most babies lean out even more, putting more calories into height than weight. It seems as if baby is finally growing into his oversized skin. Gone are the pump baby pictures of the earlier months. A slimmer toddler emerges. Often parents’ weight worries change from “Doctor, is he too fat?” to “Doctor, is he too thin?” Cherish these grab able baby rolls while you can they will soon disappear.
Being “lean” means having the right percentage of body fat for your individual body type. Lean should not be confused with skinny (which is often unhealthy) or lanky (which describes a person’s basic body type). Every child can be lean and trim; not everyone can, or should be, thin and lanky.
“Lean” is one of the most important health words you can know, since leanness equates with a lower incidence of just about every serious adult disease: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. In the last decade, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions and is now considered by both the surgeon general and the American Academy of Pediatrics one of the most concerning childhood health problems.
Seven Ways to Trim Baby Fat
1. Give baby custom-calorie milk. Breastfeed. We believe breastfeeding lessens the risk of obesity for these reasons:
* Breast milk contains the recently discovered satiety factor, a sort of built-in calorie counter that signals a full feeling toward the end of a feeding. The natural stop-eating factor in breast milk imprints on the infant the feeling of when he or she has had enough to eat — a feeling some older children and adults never learn.
* By varying his sucking style, the breastfed infant is more in control of the calorie content of the milk by the way he sucks. When hungry, baby gets high-calorie milk; when thirsty or needing only comfort, baby gets lower-calorie milk. When the breast is “empty” but baby needs continued sucking, very little milk is delivered. Not so the formula-feeding baby. No matter how the infant suck, the high-calorie stuff keeps right on flowing.
* Recent studies comparing breastfed and formula-fed babies show that after the first four to six months, breastfed babies begin to “lean out” sooner than their formula-fed peers, as they gain proportionately more height than weight.
* Formula-fed babies tend to get solid foods earlier and gain proportionately more weight than height, suggesting an early tendency away from leanness.
* A breastfeeding infant is more in control of her feedings, how much and how often she eats. A breastfeeding mother is more likely to watch the baby for cues, and since she can’t count ounces, she learns to trust baby’s feeding signals. A bottle feeding mother, on the contrary, can take control of the feeding away from the baby. She is able to count ounces and watch the clock. She can override an infant’s automatic hunger control by urging the baby to take “just a little bit more.” As a result, baby may come to expect that “stuffed feeling” after a meal and eventually seek out this feeling as part of her normal eating pattern. That’s why it’s important for breastfeeding mothers to learn to read baby’s hunger and satiety cues. Research shows that formula-fed infants, if allowed to determine for themselves how much formula to drink, can self-regulate their total daily calories quite well. In a study of six-week-old infants, babies who were given a diluted, lower-calorie formula drank more to make up for the less filling formula.
* It’s tempting to allow a toddler to walk around with a bottle just to “keep him quiet.” Offering formula at every peep may condition the infant to connect food with comfort. Breastfeeding conditions the child to connect comfort with a person.
2. Watch for lower-calorie cues.
Not all cries are for food. Being held may alone sometimes pacify the upset baby; playing may entertain the bored baby. Oftentimes, crying or fussing babies are thirsty, not hungry. Formula-fed infants and infants eating solids early get more concentrated feedings, and consequently they need more water. Sometimes offer water instead of milk, formula, or food. It’s no caloric. If unable to appease the compulsive formula drinker with plain water, consult your doctor about feeding your baby fewer calories. In recent years, formula manufacturers have introduced follow-up formulas that contain slightly less fat and few calories, much like the difference between whole milk and low-fat milk.
3. Delay solids.
Besides formula feeding, the early introduction of solids adds to the obesity risk. Forcing solids early in hopes of getting baby to sleep through the night not only seldom works but also is an unwise feeding habit. If your baby has risk factors for obesity, when you do begin solids, begin with the most nutrient-rich foods, those that pack the most nutrition in the fewest calories, such as vegetables rather than fruit and whole grains over refine grains. (Go to a nutrition store to buy whole-grain baby cereal.)
4. Respect tiny tummies.
As we’ve said before, babies’ tummies are about the size of their fists. Next time you fill a bottle or place a heaping plateful of food in front of your toddler, put them next to his fist and notice the mismatch. A leaner approach is to dole out smaller portions and refill as necessary. Avoid the temptation to insist your child clean his plate. Your job is to prepare nutritious food and serve it creatively. How much he eats is up to your child. Experience tells us that toddlers rarely get fat from eating too much nutritious food.
5. Trim unhealthy food fat.
While you don’t have to over focus on fat during the first two years, don’t ignore the potential problem either. Besides introducing your baby to a variety of foods during this time, you are also helping your infant develop a taste preference. It is unhealthy for your baby to enter childhood with a craving for fatty foods. Here’s how to trim unnecessary fats:
* Forget the frying. Bake or broil instead.
* Trim excess fat from meats and poultry. Children love crunchy and greasy chicken skin. You don’t have to pare away every crunchy morsel of fat, but trim the excess.
* Defat the dairy. Except for the compulsive, obese milk drinker, we do not recommend the use of low-fat milk and certainly not skim milk after your baby is off formula. You can pare the fat from other dairy products. Babies love butter. Substitute healthy spreads, such as nut butters or avocado spread. Get your infant used to low-fat cheeses, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
* Slow the fast foods. Avoid packaged fat-laden snacks and high-fat fast foods.
* As discussed earlier (Bad Fats), avoid foods that contain artificial fats, such as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
6. Serve fiber-filled Carbs.
Too much of the wrong sugars can produce obesity. High doses of sugar, corn syrup, and other sweeteners that are added to packaged foods and drinks already low in fiber can simply feed a baby’s sweet tooth. As a result, the child can eat or drink an excess amount, since fiber less foods are less filling,
7. Get baby moving.
Rarely do you have to take your baby out purposely for exercise. Most awake babies are in constant motion anyway. There is the classic story of Jim Thorpe, the famous Olympic athlete. When he tried to mimic the constant motion of an infant, he tired out after an hour, but the baby kept right on going. Some mellow babies, however, are content to be visually stimulated. They lie and look rather than wiggle and crawl. The plumper the baby, the less baby likes to budge; and the cycle of inactivity and obesity continues. Encourage your mellow baby to be an active toddler. Crawl with the beginning crawler, take walks together, play chase (and chase your toddler away from the T.V.), and run around in the yard playing games.
There will be more articles on raising your child to come.