How Obesity Leads to Overweight Babies

Post-pregnancy Factors

When it comes to diet and activity, what's a baby to do? Babies rely on parents and caregivers, and we're falling down on the job. Disagree? Consider that one-third of kids and teens are overweight or obese in the U.S. But if you ask parents, they'll likely tell you that their child isn't affected. In one recent poll, 84 percent of parents think their children are of healthy weight. In another, 60 percent of parents considered their overweight children to be healthy or underweight [source: Kalb].

Recognizing the problem is important, and it often comes back to the overall diet and exercise habits of the family. Diet and exercise are important before and during pregnancy -- as well as when you're not thinking about pregnancy at all -- and those habits tend to be shared among family members.

If you're wondering what the best diet for a baby is, look no further than breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk exclusively for infants 6 months and younger and advises that women continue breast-feeding for at least the first year. Infants who are breast-fed, according to a Harvard Medical School study, may have some protection against obesity as they age. Depending on the length of time a baby is breast-fed, it may reduce risk of becoming overweight through childhood and adolescence by as much as 20 percent [source: Harvard Medical School]. And that's despite factors such as prenatal exposure to gestational diabetes or an obese mother.

Once babies begin to eat solid foods, make it a sensible, healthy diet. The average infant (1 to 2 years old) only needs about 950 calories per day, but American babies are averaging closer to 1,220. A 2002 survey found that the most commonly consumed vegetable for infants ages 15 to 24 months is French fries, and 25 percent of them aren't getting daily fruits or vegetables. Pizza, though, they're getting plenty of that -- more than 10 percent eat pizza every day, and about 25 percent enjoy daily bacon [source: Warner].

What health professionals don't recommend is a diet full of soda and fast food, whether you're 7 months, 7 years or 70 years old.

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