Bigger not always better for babies

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: August 4th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Nine pounds, two ounces and twenty-three inches long.

No, this isn’t the winning catch in a bass-fishing tournament.

In a time-honored tradition, new parents love to cite the weight and length of their little bundle of joy.

And the bigger the bundle, the better.

Now world health officials, concerned the obesity epidemic is extending deeper into childhood, are considering new guidelines that might put an upper limit on parental pride.

For the first time, the proposed guidelines introduce a measure of body mass index a ratio of weight to height… for children under age two.

That has alarmed many pediatricians in the United States, where babies tend to be heavier, in part because they’re fed formula earlier than in other parts of the world. Babies breastfed exclusively until their first birthday are typically smaller than those who receive formula throughout infancy.

On paper, the new guidelines would have an immediate impact, perhaps doubling the number of U-S children who are classified as overweight. Doctors worry that parents may overreact to such labels and withhold nutrition from their infants, a dangerous situation. And while most pediatricians endorse breastfeeding, they fear that women whose circumstances won’t permit them to breastfeed for a full year, if at all, will be unduly guilt-ridden.

It should be noted that an infant’s size isn’t an accurate predictor of obesity in later life. So it’s the task of pediatricians, then, to determine whether those gaudy numbers flaunted by proud parents warrant a cigar, or a red flag.