According to leading health expert Juhee Kim, a professor of community health, child-care factors and feeding practices may play a role in overweight infants and toddlers.
With more new mothers in the workplace than ever before, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of child-care facilities. At the same time, data from a variety of sources point to a growing prevalence of overweight infants and toddlers.
According to the study co-written by University of Illinois community health professor Juhee Kim and Karen Peterson, a professor of nutrition and society at Harvard University's School of Public Health, child-care factors and feeding practices may indeed play a role.
"Our study is the first to report, to our knowledge ... the potential importance of infant child care on infant nutrition and growth," the researchers.
"The results of this study indicate that structural characteristics of child care, such as age at initiation, type and intensity, were all related to infant feeding practices and weight gain among a representative sample of U.S. infants," they added.
In the study, researchers analyzed baseline data from a nationally representative sample of 8,150 9-month-old infants to determine whether infant-feeding practices and non-parental care might be a factor in the rise in weight of the infants.
Kim and Peterson found that 55.3 percent of the infants had received regular, non-parental childcare, with half of those infants receiving full-time childcare. Among babies in child care, 40 percent began receiving such care at age 3 months; 39 percent, between 3 and 5.9 months, and 21 percent at 6 months or older.
"Weight gain and the prevalence of overweight were lowest among infants who received care by parents," the researchers said.
The researchers also examined data regarding breastfeeding initation for babies receiving parental and non-parental care, along with the stage at which solid foods were introduced to the infants. Only starting solid foods before 4 months of age was associated with increased overweight among infants.
The researches added: "Infants who initiated child care before 3 months of age had lower rates of ever having been breastfed and higher rates of early introduction of solid foods. Infants in parental care were more likely to have breastfeeding initiated and solid foods introduced after 4 months of age compared with those in child-care settings."
Further, infants in part-time childcare gained more weight - 175 grams - by 9 months of age, compared with those receiving only parental care. Those being cared for by relatives also showed a weight gain - 162 grams.
The study is published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.