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Can Baby Fat be Bad?

The path to a lifetime of obesity may begin within a baby’s first few months, according to a study led by Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing professor Susan Ludington, PhD. In fact, the body mass index (BMI) of a 2- to 4-month-old infant can predict the child’s weight at age 5.

In the study, published in Clinical Pediatrics, researchers charted 223 healthy children from infancy through age 5.

“When we tracked their BMIs, our findings clearly showed that, within the first two months of birth, babies who are overweight, obese or severely obese by category will continue in that pathway,” says Ludington, Carl W. and Margaret David Walter Professor of Pediatric Nursing. “And obesity at age 5 is a high predictor of obesity as an adult.”

Ludington, Lisaann Gittner from the University of Tennessee and Harold Haller, director of Case Western Reserve’s Center for Statistical Consulting, analyzed charts and found that, between 2 and 4 months old, normal-weight infants had distinctly lower BMIs than overweight, obese or severely obese infants; by age 6 months to 1 year, normal weight babies’ BMIs stabilized around 16.5, while others reached 17 and continued to climb.

Because such patterns emerge before children generally start eating solid food, these patterns may shed light on—and help prevent—future health issues by encouraging earlier intervention by parents and health professionals, Ludington says.