How Obesity Leads to Overweight Babies

More than 30 percent of Americans are obese, and even our babies are getting fatter year by year. What's happening, and what can we do to stop the trend? See more baby care pictures

If you think you're carrying just a few extra pounds -- you know, the ones you promise to lose with every passing New Year's resolution -- you're not alone. America has a weight problem. Roughly 72.5 million adults are obese, which is about 32 percent of men and 35.5 percent of women. But what's the difference between a few extra pounds and being considered obese? Let's take a look at a woman who's 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 meters) tall. Based on her height, she should weigh between 101 and 136 pounds (45.8 and 61.7 kilograms). If she weighs about 165 pounds (74.8 kilograms) or more, she's considered obese [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

But the problem doesn't only affect adults. Kids and teens, ages 2 to 19, are considered obese if their body mass index (BMI) falls at or above the 95th percentile when compared to kids who are the same gender and age. Obese kids are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease, among other health problems usually not seen until adulthood.

What studies are showing is that the obesity trend is a hard one to escape -- it's extending to our infants, as well. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that 6 percent of infants ranging in age from newborn to 6 months are overweight. That's up by more than 73 percent from 30 years ago. When you add in the number of babies who are at risk of crossing the line from normal to overweight, the percentage climbs to 17 percent [source: Los Angeles Times; Hellmich].

Obese babies may have incredibly pinchable cheeks, but that extra weight doesn't necessarily mean a healthy baby or a healthy beginning to life. It's not just baby fat, as many of us as apt to call it. That extra weight puts babies at risk for developmental delays, including rolling over and crawling.

Babies who weigh more than 10 pounds at birth -- known as macrosomia -- have a higher risk of becoming obese kids. Additionally, according to a study conducted at the Harvard Medical School, babies who gain weight quickly during their first six months have an increased risk of becoming obese by age 3 [source: Kalb]. While a chubby baby doesn't mean a life of obesity -- babies go through many types of growth spurts -- it's an effect that can snowball into a growing population of obese teens and adults.

What's causing American babies to have greater birth weights than they did just a few decades ago? Let's look at the influencing factors, beginning with circumstances before conception and during pregnancy.