"Even our youngest children are gaining excess weight, not just adults and adolescents," says Dr. Matthew Gillman, the study's lead author and associate professor of ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard. Gillman says his study suggests that "obesity prevention efforts need to start at the earliest stages of human development."
The researchers believe a number of factors contribute to the increase in fat babies, including the fact that more American women are entering pregnancy overweight and then developing gestational diabetes, and more babies are being overfed in the first few months after birth, which leads to rapid weight gain.
"This is an urgent warning sign," said consumer health advocate Mike Adams, "that we must take immediate action to teach expectant mothers the truth about processed foods, sugary drinks, and even the very definition of healthy weight. Because the number of obese expectant mothers is downright alarming, and doubly so when you consider that most of them have no idea they are overweight, or that their own health status is harming their unborn baby."
Though there is no definitive "overweight" limit established for very young children, the researchers adjusted infants' weight for height and considered those at or above the 95th percentile on growth charts as overweight. The researchers tracked such infants who were less than six months old, and found that by 2001, overweight babies accounted for 5.9 percent of all U.S. infants -- an increase from 3.4 percent in 1980, which equates to more than 242,000 babies each year.
Gillman warns that being overweight early in life is strongly correlated with overeating and being obese later in life, which can in turn lead to diabetes and other diseases.
The researchers do not advise parents with overweight babies to put them on diets, but rather to re-examine how much they are feeding the infant and to see a medical professional about proper nutrition.