The way obese women feed and interact with their children early in infancy might lay the foundations for obesity later in childhood. A small pilot study published this month in Nutrition Journal found that obese women fed their children more energy- rich food, and spent less time feeding and interacting with them than normal weight women.
Infancy may be one of the critical periods for the development of childhood obesity. The role of parents, especially mothers, in controlling the diet and energy intake of their children during early childhood to prevent obesity later in life is crucial.
Russell Rising and Fima Lifshitz of EMTAC Inc. observed 4 obese and 3 normal weight women and their 4 to 5 month old babies, over a period of 24 hours. The mothers were left to interact with their babies and feed them as they would normally, using their normal milk formula and complementary solid food if they wished to.
Their results show that 3 out of the 4 obese mothers fed their babies an average of 19.7 kcal per body weight more than normal weight mothers. The children of the obese mothers consumed more energy as carbohydrates, provided mainly by complementary food, whereas their energy intake from protein and fat was the same as that of other children. The obese mothers also spent less time feeding their children, and less time playing or interacting with them: over 24 hours the obese mothers spent 381 minutes interacting with their children while normal weight mothers spent 570 minutes. As a result, children of obese mothers spent more time sleeping.
“Though there were a small number of infants studied the results suggest that differences do exist on how mothers interact with their infants, depending on their body composition” write the authors, “it is possible that the differences detected among biological obese mothers and their infants could affect the body composition of their infant as they age.” They conclude, “excess energy consumption early in an infant’s life of those born to obese mothers, possibly accelerated with complementary food intake, might set the stage for future childhood obesity.”
All the children followed during this study had the same average weight, the same metabolic rate, were as physically active and spent the same average energy over 24 hours.
“Assuming that approximately 4900 kilocalories are needed per kilogram of body weight gain, it would take the infants of obese biological mothers a considerable amount of time to become obese if they would continue ingesting this amount of excess calories each day. This might explain why investigators report that it takes up to two years before a noticeable gain of body fat is observed in young children,” say the authors. They add, “all these data suggest that maternal influences on infant body composition may not appear initially as obvious physical differences during the first six months of life”.
This is in line with previous studies, which showed that obesity doesn’t manifest itself until 2 years of age.