We thought that kids could wait until they were in preschool, or at least kindergarten, to start worrying that they're fat, but apparently even babies should be concerned about having baby fat.
A new report from the National Academy of Sciences says that in the past decade we've been seeing more overweight kids, and there's more evidence that this leads to more overweight adults. According to the Washington Post, 10% of children ages 0 to 2 are overweight. More than 20% of kids ages 2 to 5 are too heavy, and that number has doubled since 1980.
Parents, doctors, and other caregivers are being advised to be more vigilant about childrens' eating habits, exercise, and sleep. Lead researcher Leann Birch, director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University, notes that only doctors can determine if children have a weight problem:
"It's not always easy to tell. There are chubby babies who are doing fine, but there are babies who are so chubby they are at risk," Birch said in a telephone interview. "Just looking at them doesn't allow you to make that distinction."
Someone forgot to tell that to magazine editors and a large section of the American public. Obviously doctors should check children's weight, and parents should follow their recommendations. Also it's probably a good idea to turn off the TV from time to time and force kids to eat foods other than chicken nuggets and Pop Tarts. But declaring that many babies are too fat — but only your doctor knows for sure, raises some serious issues. From the Post:
"It is well established in the relevant literature that the vast majority of so-called ‘fat' kids do not become fat adults. Similarly, most ‘fat' adults were not fat kids," said Patrick Basham, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. "So we need to calm down, rather than panic, about our children's weight."
Basham said he worried about the impact of focusing on weight so early in life.
"The focus from a very young age on the need for a child to ‘not be fat' serves only to increase the already-vast number of young people suffering from eating disorders," he wrote in an e-mail.
Reinforcing that kids need to eat a healthy diet and get some exercise is great, but in our weight-obsessed culture, for many parents the take-away from this report will likely be that they should be highly concerned about their baby's natural chubbiness, even if a doctor has yet to say anything about the child's weight. It definitely is important to teach kids healthy habits, yes — but that includes not obsessing about their size.
Even Baby Fat Needs Weight-Watching, National Academy Of Sciences Says [Washington Post]
Image via Kimberly Hall/Shutterstock.