Efforts to prevent childhood obesity should begin far earlier than currently thought-perhaps even before birth, suggests a new study.
To reach the conclusion, boffins tracked 1,826 women from pregnancy through their children,s first five years of life.
Most obesity prevention programs target kids age 8 and older. Scientists at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute's Department of Population Medicine, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, now say that factors that place children at higher risk for obesity begin at infancy, and in some cases, during pregnancy. Their research also suggests that risk factors such as poor feeding practices, insufficient sleep and televisions in bedrooms are more prevalent among minority children than white children.
"This early life period-prenatal, infancy, to age 5-is a key period for childhood obesity prevention, especially for minority children," says Elsie Taveras, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School, as well as the director of the One Step Ahead Program at Children's Hospital Boston.
"Almost every single risk factor in that period before age 2, including in the prenatal period, was disproportionately higher among minority children."
For the study, which appears online March 1 in the journal Pediatrics, researchers interviewed 1,343 white, 355 black and 128 Hispanic pregnant women at the end of the first and second trimesters, in the first few days following delivery, and when the children were 6 months and 3 years of age. The women also completed questionnaires when the children were 1, 2 and 4 years old.
When compared to Caucasian women, the researchers found that minority women were more likely to be overweight when they became pregnant and Hispanic women had a higher rate of gestational diabetes, both risk factors for childhood obesity. Although the prevalence of two other risk factors-smoking and depression-during pregnancy was higher among African-American and Hispanic women, those rates dropped considerably when the researchers adjusted for socioeconomic status, suggesting that at least those two risk factors may be impacted by income and education levels.
When researchers looked at other risk factors during children's first five years, they found that African-American and Hispanic infants are more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to be orn small, gain excess weight after birth, begin eating solid foods before 4 months of age and sleep less. During their preschool years, the study suggests, minority children eat more fast food, drink more sugar-sweetened beverages and are more likely to have televisions in their rooms than Caucasian children.