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Weight Control

Are Today's Babies More Overweight? Pediatric Nutritionist Has Advice for Moms of Babies and Young Children

In response to childhood obesity, lots of attention is being given to school nutrition. Now, recent news suggests that even babies can be affected by too much of the wrong food.

A group of researchers assert that more babies and children under the age of six are substantially larger or on the brink of being overweight than they were 20 years ago. The news may alarm some who always admired the cherubian look of plump babies, but Brandis Roman, pediatric nutritionist at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital, cautions that true "baby fat" should only last a limited time.

"When a child turns six or seven years of age and they still carry extra fat, it's no longer æbaby fat'," said Roman. "To get babies off to a good start and help them to avoid overeating as they grow up, babies need to be allowed to regulate their own food intake."

Sometimes parents or grandparents equate food with love, giving large portions along with affection. This can lead to overfeeding. On the other hand, when parents use food as a way to control behavior, bringing along extra juice or snacks to keep a child quiet on an outing for example, this too can promote an unhealthy relationship with food.

"Babies have strong appetites and experience fast growth in the first year of life," said Roman. "As solid foods increasingly replace milk, a growth and appetite lull happens after one year of age. Appetite takes off again when kids hit puberty."

How can parents best satiate their growing babies, toddlers and children? Roman offers these tips:

  • Breast milk or infant formula should be a baby's only food source for at the least the first 4 months of life. While infant formula is an adequate substitute for breast milk and is nutritionally complete, mother's milk is the best source of nutrition for babies because it contains immunity factors that aren't present in formula.

  • Pureed solid foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can be introduced beginning at 4 months.

  • Whole milk can be introduced after one year-not before. Low fat or skim milk is recommended after two years.

  • Avoid going overboard with juice. Infants and toddlers should have no more than four to six ounces. Older children may get eight to 12 ounces.

In addition, Roman recommends that parents not give unpasteurized or raw milk to infants as it could pose a bacteria risk. Foods that pose allergy risks include peanuts and strawberries. Roman advises that parents not introduce these foods until after one year of age. Also, parents need to be aware that hard candies, hot dogs and popcorn can pose choking hazards to small children.

For more on maintaining good nutrition for children, visit the UVa Health System parenting consumer website.

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