Infant Obesity and Healthy Eating Habits

Expert Q&A

An infant starting to walk at nine months.
How well is your infant growing?. Photo (c) Juan Collado

Q. I have a question about my 11 month old daughter. She was born 7 lb. 7 oz, which I understand is very average. I have always thought that she was growing faster than my older daughter did, but I simply told myself that they are different children and would grow at different paces. Just yesterday, I read about childhood obesity in a magazine. The article stated that birthweight was not a contributing factor but that a child should not more than double their weight by 4 months of age. Looking back in my daughter's baby book I discovered that at 4 months she weighed 16 lbs. 6 oz. Now, at 11 months, she weighs 22 lbs. and is 32 inches long. My question is, how concerned should I be about that "4 month" fact and what makes that fact true, amount of fat cells, etc? Although I try hard to promote healthy eating habits in both of my children, society makes it difficult not to allow them the tasty treats other children enjoy. Angel, Archbald, PA

A. It is probably never too early to think about childhood obesity, but in a younger infant or toddler, you should concentrate more on what she is eating and drinking and not so much on what her weight is.

Healthy Eating Habits

Even if she was gaining too much weight, if she had a healthy diet and wasn't drinking too much juice or formula, then I wouldn't worry about it too much at this age.  So I would continue to concentrate on encouraging healthy eating habits, such as:

  • continuing to breastfeed or feed an iron fortified infant formula (with an average of 24-32 ounces a day)
  • avoiding juice or limiting juice to only 4-6 ounces of 100% fruit juice and avoid fruit drinks and soda
  • offering a variety of foods, including a lot of different fruits and vegetables to encourage good eating habits later
  • limiting the 'tasty treats' that have a lot of added sugar or that are high in fat and instead concentrate on healthy treats that also taste good

    And remember that many bigger infants and younger toddlers 'thin out' as they begin to walk and run around and become more active.

    Is Your Baby Overweight?

    By the way, your child's growth looks fine. She was average at birth, moved to the top of the charts at 4 months, and is now down to the 75th percentile for her weight.

    If you consider that her height is off the growth charts, then she is definitely not overweight.

    And if you look at the growth charts, you can see that most infants who are following a growth curve actually double their birth weight closer to five or six months. If they gained weight much more than that, it would be a good idea to review your infant's feeding patterns with your pediatrician to make sure that you weren't overfeeding her. But with a normal diet and a healthy infant, gaining weight a little more quickly than average is probably normal for a younger infant. You would probably do more harm than good by putting a baby on a 'diet' and trying to limit their intake of breastmilk or formula at this age.

    Still, if a baby doubled her birth weight at three or four months because you were already feeding them a lot of cereal, giving them more than 32 to 40 ounces of formula, or already giving juice, then that might not be healthy and you might need to discuss more healthy eating habits with your doctor.

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