Baby doom

I just can’t help it. I’m a summer movie junkie.

Even though I hate having to get to the theater an hour before show time just to get a seat. And even though the snacking in the theater drives me crazy. (Sometimes, I won’t even go to the movies because I just can’t stand to hear the “crunch, crunch, munch, munch.”)

So a couple of weeks ago, I bit the speeding bullet and went to see Man of Steel.

Of course, I got to the theatre early because it was opening weekend. And as I’m sitting in my seat and waiting, I see a child carrying a soda that was almost as big as he was.

This little boy was as wide as he was tall. And the people he was with had more food than I consume in a week… all to eat as a mere “snack” during the movie.

I mean, at two-and-a-half hours, it was a pretty long movie. But really???

It reminded me of the times I used to be a guest on The Maury Povich Show. (Yes, I was… and yes, it’s still on the air.)

About twice a year, he would tape a show that featured obese infants. We’re talking about one mother who would put root beer floats in her kids’ bottles. Or another mother who chewed up McDonald’s and then spit it into her child’s mouth as food.

Believe it or not, one guest was a three-year-old who weighed more than I do. And given the way these parents fed their kids, that’s probably not too surprising.

Obviously, these were sensational cases. This brand of “parenting” is certainly the jaw-dropping exception. (That’s why they were guests on Maury in the first place.)

But given the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity in this country, I think we can all agree that the real problem is a lot bigger than a few attention-seeking outliers.

And a new study shows that parents need to start paying attention to this problem. The sooner, the better.

Why? Because this research shows that excessive weight gain during infancy has direct links to a higher risk of obesity and obesity-related conditions in later life. (How’s that for a “surprise” ending?)

These study authors followed nearly 400 non-diabetic children born at two different hospitals from birth to age eight.

And they found that excess early postnatal weight gain–that is, between birth and 18 months–had strong ties not only to obesity later in childhood, but also to arterial wall thickening and increased heart risk factors.

In fact, after adjusting for height, these young subjects’ weight at eight years was about two to three kilograms higher for every one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight gain during infancy.

Longer gestation periods and at least six months of exclusive breastfeeding, on the other hand, were both linked to lesser weight gain among the children.

I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see a study like this getting attention.

As I’m sure you remember, my first book was called Feed Your Kids Well. I have been looking into the long-term ramifications of childhood obesity for the better part of my career.

So these findings hardly surprise me. Really, they shouldn’t surprise anyone… let alone scientists in the field.

Do they mean you should put your chubby infant on a diet? Of course not.

Babies need to gain weight. And they need plenty of fat for proper growth and brain development. But we refer to those cute rolls as “baby fat” precisely because they aren’t meant to last.

Unfortunately, the processed garbage that passes for children’s “food” these days–from juice boxes to breakfast cereal to the notorious Happy Meal–all but guarantees that our plump toddlers stay that way long after they should.

Your children’s concept of proper nutrition begins to take shape the second they’re born. That’s why I’m pleading with parents to take a look at what they’re serving their kids–whether it’s in a breast, bottle, cup, or bowl.

Consider how large of an impact these first experiences with food can have on your child’s health. Not only now, but for years to come.

The choices you make for your children today inform their decisions down the road. You owe it to them to make healthy ones.

Weight gain in infancy and vascular risk factors in later childhood. Pediatrics. 2013 Jun;131(6):e1821-8.