(HealthDay News) -- It's a trend that has health experts worried: Young kids are becoming increasingly oversized -- leading, they fear, to overweight teens and, ultimately, overweight adults with health problems.
But parents could be poised to do something about this. After all, some experts contend, parents are part of the problem.
"Parents might be contributing to the overweight epidemic," said Dr. Elsie Taveras, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Harvard Medical School, who has researched the issue.
They do so unwittingly, of course, Taveras said. And the point is not to make parents feel guilty about contributing to their children's weight problems, she said, but to get the word out because the trend is headed in the wrong direction.
Today in the United States, infants up to 6 months old are 59 percent more likely to be overweight than were babies 20 years ago, according to a study published in Obesity.
In her research, Taveras discovered that infants who gain weight quickly early in life face weight problems by the time they're toddlers.
"What we found was, those children who gained more weight and gained it more quickly in the first six months of life had a higher risk of obesity when they were 3 years old," Taveras said. Her study was reported in Pediatrics.
The way parents feed their infants might play a role in this weight gain, another study found.
John Worobey, a professor and chairman of the nutritional sciences department at Rutgers University in New Jersey, evaluated the behavior of mothers as they fed their babies. His team followed 96 mother-child pairs, asking the mothers questions -- such as what they did when their babies got fussy -- and watching them feed their children formula.
Mothers who fed their babies eight times a day, on average, rather than seven and "who were less sensitive in reading their baby's satiety cues," Worobey said, had babies who gained more weight between ages 6 and 12 months. The findings were reported in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
One solution, he said, is for parents to pay closer attention to their baby's cues, asking their pediatrician for help if they aren't certain how to read those cues.
"Pulling the head away from the bottle is the infant's way to signal, 'Hey, I don't want to do this anymore,'" Worobey said. But the cue is often not noticed.
One way to remedy that, he suggests, is for parents to avoid feeding their infants while watching television. "You may be paying more attention to the TV," he said. "It's better to make it one-on-one time."
There could be cultural myths at work, too, he said, with some cultures still believing that a chubby baby is a healthy baby.
Taveras urged parents to check in often about weight with their infant's pediatrician. With about four "well-baby" visits in the first six months, parents should remember to ask each time about their child's weight. "They should discuss with their clinician how their child is growing," she said.
But the parental link to youngsters' weight might start well before birth, perhaps even before pregnancy.
Reporting in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, researchers found that women who start pregnancy at a normal weight but gain more than 25 to 35 pounds increase their child's risk for being overweight at age 3.
The Nemours Foundation has more on overweight and obese kids.
SOURCES: Elsie Taveras, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, pediatrics, Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Harvard Medical School, Boston; John Worobey, Ph.D., professor and chairman, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.; May/June 2009, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior; April 2009, Pediatrics; Sept. 26, 2008, Maternal and Child Health Journal; July 2006, Obesity
Last Updated: Oct. 11, 2009
By Kathleen Doheny
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