Overweight problems seen even in infants

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New research indicates that problems associated with being overweight occur at a much younger age than previously thought.

In a study reported in the journal Pediatrics, overweight infants were at increased risk for developmental delays and possibly breathing problems, such as asthma. Moreover, in most cases, parents were unaware of their child’s weight problem.

“Although the consequences of infant and childhood excess body weight may seem to manifest in later years, this perception is inaccurate,” Dr. Ron Shaoul, from Bnai Zion Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, and colleagues warn.

“Our findings indicate a need to intervene during these critical years by adopting proper eating habits and active lifestyles,” they add.

The findings are based on two studies. The first involved 2139 infants not older than age 2 who were admitted for any reason to the Bnai Zion Medical Center in 2004 and 2005. The second study was community-based and used parental interviews to assess the problems seen in 79 overweight infants and 144 normal-weight infants.

The infants were considered overweight if they had a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th weight-for-height percentile on 2 or more measurements taken at least 3 months part. This means that 85 percent of children their age and gender have a lower BMI, which is a measure of weight in relation to height.

In the first study, the researchers found that infants between the 85th and 94th weight-for-height percentiles actually had fewer hospital admissions and repeat admissions than normal-weight infants. However, higher than expected admission rates were seen in the most overweight infants (95th or higher percentile).

In the second study, overweight infants were more likely than their normal-weight peers to have developmental delays and snoring. There was also evidence that asthma and other breathing problems were more common in overweight infants.

When surveyed, only about 32 percent of mothers with an overweight child believed that their child was overweight.

Parents need to be aware that even infants are at risk for problems related to excess body weight and, therefore, should strive to achieve a normal weight in their young children, Shaoul and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, August 2008.