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To Curb Childhood Obesity, Experts Say Keep Baby Fat In Check

A chubby baby may not be a healthy baby.
Kate Monakhova
A chubby baby may not be a healthy baby.

The number of overweight kids and adolescents in the U.S. has almost tripled since the 1980s. That's pretty troubling, but the Institute of Medicine says we need to be paying more attention to the littlest kids: those under five.

Almost 10 percent of babies and toddlers carry too much weight for their size. And more than 20 percent of children 2 through 5 are already overweight, the IOM says, which could have pretty serious repercussions later in life.

"Contrary to the common perception that chubby babies are healthy babies and will naturally outgrow their baby fat, excess weight tends to persist," Leann Birch, chair of the IOM's childhood obesity prevention committee, said in a statement. The committee's report released today makes some recommendations on what to do about it.

The report suggests that everyone who cares for children—including state and local agencies, health care providers and child care providers—needs to help reign in the baby fat.

As for specifics, the panel recommends:

  • Pediatricians should track weight gain at every routine visit
  • Cut down the time children spend watching TV or using the computer or cell phone
  • Encourage children in preschool and child care to get more physical activity
  • Make sure children get enough shut eye
  • Encourage mothers to stick with breastfeeding for at least six months
  • Make sure kids are getting the right food portions for their age
  • The kind of food also matters, especially for babies: As Shots reported recently, giving solid food to formula-fed kids before they hit four months of age raises the odds they'll be overweight as preschoolers.

    The IOM researchers don't just want to prevent obesity in kids; they're also anticipating other things that can show up down the line.

    "Weight-related conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure once occurred almost exclusively in adults but are now occurring at rising rates among teens and young adults," said Birch.

    Dr. Elsie Taveras, also on the committee, says obesity is now an even bigger player in the rise of lots of chronic diseases. "Diabetes and cardiovascular disease and some cancers are almost entirely directly related to obesity both in childhood and adulthood," she told reporters at a press briefing today.

    So parents and child care providers can do small kids a favor by not letting them get too big, even if that means turning off Nickelodeon.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Linda Thrasybule