According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 60 million American adults are obese , and more than nine million American children and teenagers are overweight. With overweight and obesity becoming more prevalent in children and adolescents, prevention efforts have started to focus on this age group. But how early in life do we begin to be at risk for obesity?

In an online study published by the British Medical Journal on October 14, 2005, researchers sought to determine whether the risk for obesity could be identified during infancy (the period between three months and two years of age). They found that heavier infants or infants who grew rapidly were at increased risk for obesity during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

About the Study

The researchers analyzed 24 studies that examined the relationship between infant size or infant growth and the risk of obesity at any age after infancy.

Of the 18 studies that examined the relationship between infant size and subsequent obesity, most found that the heaviest infants, those who were defined as obese, or those who had the highest body mass index were more likely to be obese in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Of the ten studies that looked at infant growth and obesity, seven found that more rapid growth during the first two years of life increased the risk of obesity during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

The main limitation of this study was that the definitions of infant size, infant growth, and obesity varied from study to study. In addition, several studies did not take other factors relevant to obesity, such as family history, into consideration.

How Does This Affect You?

It is customary for birth announcements to include three bits of information: name, birth date, and birth weight. The greater the weight, the more impressed is the announcement’s recipient, as if the mother must have done an extra good job with her pregnancy. While low birth weight carries important risks, large babies are also at risk for future health problems.

This study suggests that childhood, adolescent, and adult obesity may be associated with infant size and growth. These conclusions are consistent with other research that has demonstrated a link between birthweight and adult obesity, as well as childhood growth and obesity.

If you are concerned about your infant’s weight or growth, talk to your pediatrician. Although childhood obesity should not be taken lightly, infants and young children need proper and adequate nutrition for healthy growth and development. Compromising a child’s nutrition during infancy without careful supervision could end up doing them more harm than good.