Certain risk factors for childhood obesity, such as not being breastfed and early introduction of solid foods, may explain the increased incidence of childhood overweight and obesity in certain racial and ethnic groups, a new study has found.
Researchers report an increased risk of obesity and overweight among black and Hispanic seven-year-olds could largely be explained by risk factors such as rapid infant weight gain, early introduction of solid foods, and a lack of exclusive breast feeding.
“We know that, already by the age of two, black and Hispanic children have close to double the rate of obesity of white children in the [United States],” says Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the study. “Our finding that most of these racial/ethnic differences can be explained by behavioral risk factors indicates that designing and implementing interventions to reduce those risk factors during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood could help eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in childhood obesity.”
Risk Factors More Common in Blacks, Hispanics
A 2010 study led by Taveras was the first to show that almost all known early-life risk factors for childhood obesity — including low rates of breastfeeding, lack of sleep, and high consumption of fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages — are more common among black and Hispanic children.
In order to find any direct relationship between those risk factors and childhood overweight and obesity, the current study looked at more than 1,000 children and their mothers, from early pregnancy to age seven. The mothers of those children participated in study visits at the end of their first and second trimesters, soon after delivery, and when their children were ages and at six months, three years and seven years. Certain measures such as the child’s weight and body fat were measured at those visit, along with information about risk factors for obesity and socioeconomic information.
Black and Hispanic children had almost double the rate of overweight and obesity by age seven as white children in the study group.
Risk factors most likely to be present in children who were overweight or obese were:
- rapid infant weight gain
- non-exclusive breastfeeding (feeding infants food instead of only breastfeeding them)
- introduction of solid foods before four months
- sleeping less than 12 hours per day
- drinking sugar-sweetened beverages
- eating fast food frequently
- the presence of a television in the bedroom