Baby Fat: When to Rejoice, When to Worry

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; 8:07 PM

-- New parents learn quickly that everyone has something to say about a pudgy baby, with remarks ranging from harmless ("Look at those chubby cheeks") to hurtful ("Isn't he a little big for his age?").

"I got comments all the time from my so-called friends," says Lan Ma, recalling that her two children, as infants, had chipmunk cheeks and "rolls after rolls of flesh."

Ma, of Edgewater, N.J., ignored any suggestion that Thomas, now 4, and Tyler, 2, were too big, even when both weighed in at 14 pounds _ double their birth weights _ at their 2-month checkups. "I was never worried about their weight when they were young, because they were both very, very healthy."

Some other parents, however, can become anxious, given widespread reports that an increasing percentage of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight.

"With all the talk about obesity, we certainly have some overzealous parents who are worried about their nice, healthy, chunky baby becoming an overweight adult, and (they are) restricting their nutrients," says Dr. Robert Holmberg, a pediatrician in Bangor, Maine, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Obesity.

When should "baby fat," long the symbol of a thriving infant, be cause for alarm?

In general, a chubby baby is a healthy one, doctors say.

Poor nutrition and lack of exercise _ major factors in the obesity epidemic among children and adults _ "haven't had time to affect the infant," Holmberg says.

But while doctors urge parents not to panic, they also encourage them to watch for warning signs:

_ Before age 3, parental obesity is a stronger predictor of future weight problems than an infant's birth weight or place on the growth chart.

"If parents are overweight, their children are at much greater risk for the development of weight problems," says Dr. William Dietz, director of the division of nutrition and physical activity for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Genetics may be partly to blame, but more often the culprit is lifestyle, says Dr. Thomas Robinson, associate professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

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