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Just Baby Fat or Looming Obesity?

Pinching a baby’s cheeks. Enjoying chubby thighs. Tickling under multiple chins and blowing raspberries on a pudgy tummy. Taking delight in your baby’s pudge is harmless, right? Well, maybe not.

Is that just baby fat, or a sign of oncoming obesity issues? How can you tell? The answer may be clear to doctors, but parents have a much harder time making the determination.

Parents rely on the power of sight to determine if their child falls within a normal weight range – they often don’t use medical data such as height/weight ratios or BMI charts to determine if their child’s weight is appropriate. But in a nation where “normal” isn’t necessarily healthy, that often backfires.

“Because so many children are overweight and obese… [overweight kids] don’t stand out as much as they would have 20 or 30 years ago,” nutritionist and American Dietetic Association spokesperson Elisa Zied told CNN. “I almost see a lack of concern with some parents.”

Often, parents are unable to see the expanding waistlines of their children. Nearly 20 percent of America’s children are obese, with another 10 percent classified as overweight – and that number appears to be on the rise. Multiple studies have shown that parents of overweight children often have the misconception that their child is a normal weight. In an odd twist, parents whose children fall into the normal weight range think their children are smaller than they actually are.

Why is this a problem? After all, heavy kids can grow to be slim adults. Not so fast, according to recent reports. One study from the University of Colorado recently found that growing too rapidly as a baby can be a predictor for an unhealthy BMI in childhood. A separate study concluded that overweight kids are more likely to develop heart disease as adults.

What is the best direction for a parent to take? Talk with your child’s pediatrician and use a current BMI chart to plot your child’s numbers. If the end figure is too high, don’t panic. Take an honest look at your family’s exercise and diet habits and see how you can make positive changes that can turn into lifelong habits. Don’t single out your child, though, for that can backfire and you can create problems with self-esteem. Instead, make it a family change… and make it fun!

April 29th, 2010

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