Packing on the Baby Fat

Disparities in health and household habits tied to obesity among minority children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D

(RxWiki News) Mom’s and dad’s habits, decisions and finances generally influence their offspring’s future. Childhood obesity, which is especially high among blacks and Latinos, also is a problem often shaped by parental choice and circumstance.

Several aspects of parenting are suspected of making black and Latino kids, by age 7, almost twice as likely as white children to be overweight, according to a new study.

The study's researchers found risk factors included a slightly higher rate of depression among mothers and of diabetes during their pregnancy; babies being weaned off breastfeeding earlier; inadequate sleeping time for children; and the presence of televisions in many bedrooms.

"Set healthy dietary habits as soon as your baby's born."

Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, a pediatrician in Harvard Medical School’s Obesity Prevention Program, was the study’s lead author.

Except in some poorer, developing nations, childhood obesity has soared over the last three decades worldwide, the researchers wrote.

Making inroads against obesity in populations hardest hit by being overweight will require parents to be more mindful of how intertwined their lives—and lifestyles—are with their children’s health, researchers concluded, explaining the reasons for their study.

The research team tracked 1,116 mother-child pairs in eastern Massachusetts from pregnancy until the children were 7 years old.

Researchers visited in person with pregnant women at the end of their first and second trimesters, a few days after their babies were born and when the children were six months, 3 years and 7 years old.

Around their first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth birthdays, mothers completed mail-in questionnaires that also informed the researchers' conclusions.

Black and Hispanic mothers were slightly more likely than white mothers to suffer from gestational diabetes, the researchers found, and they were more than twice as likely as whites to be depressed during and after pregnancy.

Minority moms also were less likely than white mothers to feed their infants only breast milk exclusively for the first six months of their babies’ lives. About 31 percent of white mothers did so, compared to 19 percent of black mothers and 12 percent of Hispanic ones.

Roughly 20 percent of white infants were recorded as having early, rapid weight gain, while the figures were roughly 36 percent for black infants and almost 40 percent for Hispanic ones.

Roughly 13 percent of white infants were eating solid food, which is harder to digest, before they were 4 months old, while almost 34 percent of black infants and 41 percent of Hispanic infants were doing so.

The mothers, researchers wrote, also reported that about 85 percent of black children were drinking high-calorie, low-nutrient sodas, flavored milk, fruit drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages before they were 2 years old. That rate was 81 percent for Hispanics and 46 percent for whites.

By age 3, almost 64 percent of white children, 81 percent of black ones and 84 percent of Hispanic ones were eating fast food.

By age 4, about 6 percent of white kids, 53 percent of black ones and 61 percent of Hispanic regularly slept in a room where there was a television. Between 6 months and 2 years old, 30 percent of white infants were sleeping less than a total of 12 hours per day, while the rate for blacks was 60 percent. For Hispanics, the figure was 64 percent.

Earlier research showed that toddlers, for example, typically get between 10 and 12 hours daily of sleep, which is key to children’s development.

“These differences may very well explain the observed racial/ethnic disparities in elevated adiposity and prevalence of overweight and obesity as children grow up ...” researchers wrote. “... our study implies that interventions to modify early life risk factors may greatly reduce disparities in the prevalence of childhood obesity.”

In the United States, where, according to researchers, 32 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, obesity rates have leveled off among non-Hispanic whites and those who are more economically well-off.

But the gap in obesity rates between those groups and people who are poor and/or in racial minorities, overall, has widened, researchers wrote.

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities funded the study. The authors reported no conflicts of interest, financial investment or gain related to the study.

It was published June 3 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Review Date: 
May 27, 2013
Last Updated:
August 8, 2013