Baby fat may no longer be the picture of health for infants born to obese mothers, according to researchers who say the newborns may face the risk of getting heavier as they grow up. The number of babies in the study born in the 90th percentile for their weight, height and gestational age increased 45 per cent from 1990 to 2005, according to recent research. The proportion of newborns in that category rose to 16 per cent in 2005 from 11 per cent in 1990. Previous research has shown that adults who are overweight or obese have a greater risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
“Chubby babies may not necessarily be healthy babies as they may have the risk factor for obesity that may lay dormant for a while, only to raise its head in adulthood,” said Felix Okah, lead author of the study. Newborns “are starting out with more body fat,” Okah said. “We’re looking at potential problems with babies with more body fat transforming into children and adults with more body fat and therefore with the potential to become obese.” Okah looked at data from the Kansas City health department on 74,053 infants born full-term from 1990 to 2005.
The researchers calculated the newborn’s ponderal index based on their body fat composition. On average, an index score of 3.02 or higher is in the 90th percentile while a score of 2.54 would be in the 50th percentile for a full-term baby. The average score rose to 2.69 in 2005 from 2.62 in 1990. In a baby who is born 19.7 inches long, that reflects a difference of about 0.09 kg. In black babies, the index score increased to 2.68 from 2.57, in Hispanics the score increased to 2.77 from 2.70 and in whites it rose to 2.69 from 2.67, he said. “That difference may not be a problem in the immediate newborn period, but the future implication of obesity risk and the associated obesity-related problems are a concern,” Okah said.
In the study presented on Sunday, the number of women considered obese before pregnancy rose to 22 per cent in 2005 from 13 per cent in 1990, he said. While other reports have found the number of adults who are considered obese may have levelled off over the past decade, the tide hasn’t turned for soon-to-be mothers, Okah said. If newborns are imprinted from the beginning that their bodies are meant to have more body fat, “then we’re potentially laying the groundwork for future problems with obesity,” he said.