Consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in January as large increases in the cost of medical care, homeownership and tobacco products more than offset a decline in gasoline and home heating oil prices, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

The increase followed a 0.2 percent rise in December and was in line with the average monthly change in the second half of 1987. The December increase was revised upward from 0.1 percent in the original report last month.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said personal incomes and personal consumption spending also both rose 0.3 percent in January. Analysts said the figures are consistent with an economy that is growing only slowly, but the numbers give no indication that the nation has or is on the verge of entering a recession, as some economists maintain.

With the civilian unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent and production facilities in some industries being used at nearly full capacity, economists are watching various inflation measures, such as the consumer price index, very closely for any sign that inflation is accelerating.

Over the past three months, the CPI went up at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.2 percent, the lowest rate for any three-month period since the end of 1986. However, if food and energy prices, which are often volatile, are excluded, the index went up 0.5 percent last month and at an annual rate of 4.4 percent over the last three months -- a more troubling pair of figures.

"There were a lot of price increases that come at the first of the year, but I'm not overly alarmed," said Lawrence Chimerine, chairman of The Wefa Group, an economic consulting and forecasting firm. "Services are clearly a major source of inflation. But I think that in the months to come, we'll see less inflation from services and more from import price increases."

Among those watching price measures very closely these days are policy makers at the Federal Reserve. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress this week that a 4 percent inflation rate concerns him and indicated that an acceleration could cause the Fed to tighten credit conditions. Greenspan and other Fed officials are particularly watching for signs of larger increases in wages that would be passed on in higher prices for goods and services.

In January, medical care costs jumped 0.8 percent, its largest increase in nearly two years, the Labor Department said. Over the past three months, they rose at a 6.8 percent rate.

Prices in a catch-all category called "other goods and services" went up even faster, 1.3 percent for the month and at an 8.5 percent rate for the last three months. A 2.8 percent rise in tobacco product prices and a 1 percent increase in prices for toilet goods and personal care appliances accounted for most of the category's climb.

Grocery store prices went up 0.2 percent last month following a big 0.6 percent rise in December and no change in November. The meats, poultry, fish and eggs category went down 0.2 percent in January, the fourth monthly drop in a row. Cereal and bakery products and sugar and sweets prices both rose 1.1 percent for the month.

Shelter costs, which account for more than one-fourth of the total CPI, increased 0.6 percent, the same as in December. Hotel and motel charges rose sharply, and most other items in this category, such as insurance and homeownership costs, continued to go up more rapidly than prices generally.

Gasoline prices fell 1.6 percent following a 1.7 percent drop in December. However, they remained 9.4 percent higher than they were in January 1987. Fuel oil prices went down 0.8 percent but were still 7 percent higher than a year earlier.

The Commerce Department said that with the 0.3 percent increase last month, personal income reached an annual rate of $3,878.6 billion last month.

Personal outlays rose $10.5 billion to an annual rate of $3,146.8 billion. The spending increase came almost entirely from outlays for services. Spending for durable goods went up a scant $200 million and those for nondurables fell by $700 million.

COMPONENTS OF THE CPI

PERCENTAGE CHANGE IN 12 MONTHS ENDED JAN. '88

All items: 4.0%

Food and beverages: 3.2%

Housing: 3.8%

Apparel and upkeep: 4.5%

Transportation: 4.4%

Medical care: 6.2%

Entertainment: 4.2%

Other goods and services: 6.3%

.......................TRACKING INFLATION.........................

..................................................................

CPI......................% change from.........Change in 3 months

Expenditure..............previous month.........ended Jan. '88, at

Category..............Dec. '87...Jan. '88.....compound annual rate

..................................................................

All items....................2..........3......................3.2

Food and beverages...........4..........3......................3.2

Housing......................3..........4......................3.9

Apparel and upkeep.........-.8..........1.....................-1.9

Transportation.............-.3.........-1........................4

Medical care.................4..........8......................6.8

Entertainment................1..........6......................4.2

Other goods and services.....5........1.1......................8.5

SOURCE: Dept. of Labor