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03/30/2009

Don’t Put Your Baby on a Diet

One of the most frustrating aspects of reviewing research studies that at the end of them, when the data is reported–either in journals or the media–one has to wonder, “What is a person supposed to do with this data?”

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Here is one more study where this is obviously true: as reported in the Chicago Tribune, rapid infant weight gain is linked to childhood obesity. This study published in the recent issue of the journal Pediatrics says that packing on the ounces (and the pounds) in the first six months of life increases the chances the child will be overweight at age 3, much more than other factors such as birth weight, parents weight, or how much the mother gained during the pregnancy.

While this is incredibly interesting information to learn, the real question I have to ask is: so what? Are new parents supposed to sit around and wonder about every ounce their newborn gains in the first six months? And what is the acceptable range of weight gain for infants, anyway?

Studies like these drive me crazy because they really only serve to create a group of worried parents who will do ridiculous things like put their babies on “string bean baby food” or “vegetarian only” baby food diets to prevent them from being obese later in life. While the author says in the Trib article, “parents should not put their chunky babies on diets”, some parents will not be able to resist worrying about and changing the diet of their son or daughter if they happen to look like the Michelin baby.

Don’t get me wrong, learning about the roots of childhood and adulthood obesity is important. But scaring parents that their rapidly growing babies are going to shortly become obese is not the goal of research. Nor was it the goal of this research. However, the unintended consequences of the way research can be reported in the media and how it can be relayed by researchers can be just as important as how the research is conducted in the field or in the laboratory.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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