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Childhood obesity can begin as early as 9 months of age, researchers find

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December 31, 2010|By Eryn Brown | Los Angeles Times
  • Childhood obesity can start as early as 9 months of age, researchers find.
Childhood obesity can start as early as 9 months of age, researchers find. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated…)

Everyone loves a roly-poly baby. Still, there is such a thing as an overweight infant, and obese babies -- even those as young as 9 months -- are predisposed to being obese later in life, researchers say in Friday's issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Childhood obesity is a growing public health problem in the United States.  It has been linked to psychological problems, asthma, cardiovascular troubles and a greater chance of developing diabetes.

Hoping to better understand the factors associated with being obese at a very early age -- and possibly help parents and health advocates stave off its ill effects -- lead author Brian G. Moss of Wayne State University and William H. Yeaton of the University of Michigan analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, a nationally representative sample of American children born in 2001.

RELATED: Obesity prevention starts early -- really, really early

The data included height, weight and demographic characteristics of 8,900 9-month-old babies and 7,500 2-year-old toddlers. Obese children were defined as those who exceeded the 95th percentile for body-mass index (as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and those between the 85th and 95th percentile were considered "at risk."

Moss and Yeaton found that 32% of children were either obese or at risk of obesity by the tender age of 9 months.  That figure increased to 34% by the time the munchkins reached their second birthdays.

"We weren't surprised by the prevalence rates we found in our study, but we were surprised the trend began at such a young age," Moss said in a statement.

Among the patterns that emerged:

  • Boys were more at risk than girls (this contradicted earlier research). 
  • Latinos had the highest risk.
  • Geographic location was not consistently associated with being obese or at risk.
  • The family's socioeconomic status didn't seem to make a difference at 9 months of age. But by two years, the kids in the bottom economic 20% were most likely to be obese or at risk, while those in the top 20% were least likely to be obese or at risk.
No one is suggesting that babies be put on a diet. But knowing more about the demographic characteristics of very young children who are more likely to become obese could help health officials and parents prevent later health troubles by promoting healthier eating and lifestyle choices.

RELATED: A new map of childhood obesity in the U.S.

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