Changing the way that parents interact with their infants could help combat child obesity, a study suggests.
New mothers were offered ways of responding to babies’ needs, including avoiding comforting with food.
By the age of three, children exposed to so-called “responsive parenting” had lower body mass index (BMI).
Eating and sleeping behaviours are established early.
And if food is used to soothe or reward in infants, rather than just when they are hungry, that child may then use food to soothe their distress in later life and it could lead to them being obese.
The advice included instructions on:
- sleep routines
- alternatives to feeding for calming a fussy infant
- recognising signals from the child of being hungry or full
- focusing on physical activities
The children were then checked at the age of three. Those whose mothers had been coached in responsive parenting techniques were found to have lower BMIs. Girls were affected more than boys by the intervention.
Researchers will continue to monitor them up to the age of nine.
With such high rates of obesity already among toddlers, it made sense during such a developmentally important time of infancy to begin to establish healthy behaviors.
“Based on our growth charts, 20-25% of two- to five-year-old are already overweight or obese. It’s a major problem, a tough nut to crack.
Children who are overweight or obese at an early age have a much increased risk of staying obese as they get older.
But a “lifelong approach” was needed to break the obesity cycle.
- Overweight children become overweight parents who have overweight children … so where in the cycle do you intervene?
- In our current environment, there needs to be a lifelong approach.
- The real question for policy makers is what can you do to sustain this?
- We know that the power of an early intervention is going to decline with time.
- We should thinking about “How can we reinforce the good beginning?