Fighting Childhood Obesity

First Year Focus

Once baby's here, start things off right with these recommendations:

Breastfeed. Breast milk is the healthiest food you can give your child and here's one more reason why: It reduces the risk of childhood obesity. In one 2004 study, infants breastfed for at least three months were significantly less overweight by age 4 than those who were never breastfed or who did so for less than a month.

Experts aren't sure why breastfeeding protects against obesity. One reason may be that nursed babies are more apt to stop feeding when they're full. "If you're giving a baby a bottle, there is a tendency to want her to finish it," says Amy DeFelice, MD, director of nutrition support at Babies & Children's Hospital of New York. "But babies are born with a wonderful mechanism for knowing how much food they need."

Delay solids. Babies are often ready to experiment with solid food by 4 months of age, but many obesity experts recommend waiting until 6 months. One study published in the British Journal of Medicine found that babies who started on solids before 6 months were more prone to weight problems by age 4.

The authors theorized that beginning solids too early added surplus calories that young infants don't need or can't burn off with physical activity. Plus, some research shows that babies who start solids before 6 months tend to wean prematurely. "Breast milk or formula gives babies all the nutrition and calories needed for the first half-year," says Dr. DeFelice.

Be mindful of mealtime signals. Back off from feeding if your baby purses his lips, turns away, or appears to lose interest in the spoonful of cereal or strained veggies. Helping a baby learn to listen to his hunger and satiety cues is an important obesity-prevention measure. Likewise, never force your baby to finish a bottle.

Offer a variety of baby foods. Take advantage of all the flavors out there, especially in fruits and vegetables. Research shows that lifelong food preferences are formed in the first few years. In fact, when University of Tennessee researchers surveyed more than 100 children ages 2 to 8 about their food likes and dislikes, they found that 70 percent of food preferences were established by age 2.

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