When is it too late in the battle against obesity?

Political tension continues to swirl in Washington as the recently passed health care bill has many stakeholders on both sides of the aisle – including many general consumers – pleading for concrete, “real” reform. Not “insurance reform” that addressed in the bill and not simply for immediate health concerns, but the legislation is being critically assessed for the health of future generations as well.

When considering the health of future generations, it’s impossible to ignore growing concerns of childhood obesity. In light of that, schools across the country have banned cupcakes and even issued obesity report cards. First lady Michelle Obama has also championed a campaign to get young people moving and end childhood obesity.

Despite that, little intervention is taking place before age three.

In an article from The New York Times on March 23, experts said that health care evaluation should begin with toddlers, as “more and more evidence points to pivotal events very early in life…that can set young children on an obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they’re in kindergarten.”

In other words, are today’s obesity campaigns too little too late for children?

Evidence in favor of early intervention isn’t ironclad and some baby fat is entirely healthy, but there are a few “early-in-life” conditions to consider when raising a healthy child.

For example, “the intrauterine environment of a woman with diabetes overnourishes the fetus,” says Dana Dabelea, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health. She added, “That may reset the offspring’s satiety set point, and make them predisposed to eat more.”

In addition, the Times article suggests we may need to abandon some cherished cultural attitudes toward caring for newborns.

“The idea that a big baby is a healthy baby, and a crying baby is probably a hungry baby who should be fed, are things we really need to rethink,” says Dr. Leann L. Birsch, director of Penn State’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research.

In late 2009, Dr. Birsch was tasked with leading an Institute for Medicine committee to develop – for the first time – obesity intervention recommendations specifically for children under the age of five. The report is due in roughly 18 months.

Until then, the discussion is open. What are your thoughts on early obesity intervention? How – if at all – can expecting parents improve their child’s eating habits before birth?

Give us your questions. We’ll find someone from the multitude of child health experts here at Cincinnati Children’s to offer an answer.

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Comments

  1. Melissa April 07, 17:07
    I find the whole subject very interesting. My oldest child has had weight issues since the time she was 4 years old (about the time she developed allergies and asthma.) Her other sisters so far appear to have typical BMI readings. All three were exclusively breastfed, but even as a baby my oldest seemed to be far more insatiable when it came to breastmilk than her sisters. As a parent who has done basically the same things parenting three children, but finds one has more issues with weight and food, I can see that there may be some things early on that I could or maybe should have done differently, but it was very hard as a new mother to know that her eating demands as a nursing mother were greater than other children's. I wish I knew of a supportive summer program/camp in Cincinnati for my oldest. She is highly motivated to trim down, and has since the beginning of the year done a wonderful job of both getting more active and watching what she is eating, and she is seeing results. I think she would benefit greatly from a peer supported environment and not feel so alone in her issues, but I can't find one in this area. It would be great if Children's became a leader in helping parents on this subject. Children are all different, even in the same family, and understanding what to do and how to do it early on when it comes to preventing childhood obesity in the first place, and then also provide guidance once a child shows tendencies toward weight issues.
  2. Kate Setter
    Kate Setter April 12, 12:18
    Hi, Melissa - Thank you for your comment. Cincinnati Children's has a program called HealthWorks!, that may be of interest to your family: cincinnatichildrens.org/healthworks. And if that isn't the right fit, you might also want to check out programs at cincinnatifitkids.com (if your daughter is 13 years old or younger). Many local fitness clubs also have youth/teen programs that may be worth some investigation.