Zeroing in on Childhood Obesity

by Ann Douglas

Targeting ObesityThe urgency of the childhood obesity problem is forcing researchers to take new and innovative approaches to tackling this issue.

Not only are they zeroing in on factors that weren't talked about much in the past; they're also looking at the pre-birth and early-childhood roots of obesity.

Yes, your life-long battle of the bulge can begin before you were even born, even before you were a twinkle in your parents' eye. Studies suggest that a poor maternal diet before conception increases a child's risk of developing type II diabetes and obesity.

Obesity Prevention in the Womb

Scientists have been increasing their understanding of how genes work. Studies show that the environment in the womb can have long-term consequences on the risk of obesity in children.

Smoking Increases Your Child Obesity Risk

A study conducted by researchers associated with the Harris Obesity Prevention Effort (HOPE) at New York University have discovered, for example, that prenatal tobacco exposure increases the risk of obesity in preadolescent African American and Latino boys and girls.

Watch That Weight Gain

Researchers from The children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine took a look at weight gain during pregnancy. They found that children whose mothers gain more than the recommended amount of weight face above-average odds of being overweight at age seven.

Most researchers give this advice to pregnant women. These tips can help lesson the chance for your child to be obese:

1) Stay active and follow recommendations for weight gain.

2) Eats lots of healthy carbohydrates, especially those brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

3) Experiment with a variety of tastes (baby will taste them, too!).

Once Baby Arrives

Breastfeed, and don't offer juice or sugary drinks. If your baby is formula-fed. delay introducing solids until at least 4 month of age. In 2011, Researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School formula-fed babies who had been introduced to solid foods before 4 months of age were six times more likely to be obese by age 3.

Among breast-fed babies, the timing of introducing solids was not associated with obesity.

Let your baby get enough sleep. Babies who sleep less than 12 hours are at increased risk for obesity later. If they don't sleep enough and also watch two hours or more of TV a day, they're at even greater risk.

Transition from a bottle to sippy cup by 18 months. Researchers found that children who drank from a bottle age were more likely to be obese, even when they entered kindergarten. Interestingly, extended breastfeeding has the opposite affect. It reduces the risk of a child being obese at age 4.

Involve your baby and toddler in an active and healthy lifestyle.

Parent Perceptions and Overweight Preschoolers

My Child Doesn't Look Overweight!

Like children and teenagers, babies and toddlers have been getting fatter. At least one in 10 kids under age 2 is overweight.

Researchers in Ontario asks parents to evaluate their kids' weight. They found that a large proportion of parents don't recognize that their children are overweight or obese. They say that increasing parent's awareness of their child's weight status could be a first key step in preventing childhood obesity.

Getting Out and Moving

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children of all ages get one hour (or more) of physical activity each day, which can mean anything from walking or crawling to actively playing with toys or dancing.

A study, "Parents' perceptions of neighborhood safety and children's physical activity," published in "Preventative Medicine," asked caregivers about neighborhood safety.

Perception of the neighborhood as less safe was independently associated with an increased risk of overweight at seven-years-old.

For more on the innovative research being conducted by this research group and a related research group, "Banishing Obesity and Diabetes in Youth" (BODY), please visit their site.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site,

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to