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Obesity Starts In The Womb

By Sierra Black |

2661697269_41cb37378a_mThere are few things cuter than baby fat. The rolls on the chin. The dimpled knees. The cherubic round cheeks. We could just eat them up.

But a mounting body of research suggests that those adorable fat babies are at higher risk for obesity as older children and adults.

More broadly, the emerging data points to parents as a big factor in children’s weight issues. Schools are doing a lot to try to curb childhood obesity, but parents aren’t doing enough during the preschool years to set kids on the right track.

The New York Times reports on three major risk factors for those chunky cuties:

  • The chubby cherub-like baby who is growing so nicely may be growing too much for his or her own good, research suggests.
  • Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are at risk of becoming obese, even though the babies are usually small at birth.
  • Babies who sleep less than 12 hours are at increased risk for obesity later. If they don’t sleep enough and also watch two hours or more of TV a day, they are at even greater risk.

A lot of what parents can do to help, we’re already doing. Or at least, we’re already being admonished to do by parenting experts and public health campaigns. We all know we’re not supposed to smoke while pregnant. Breastfeeding helps to reduce the risk of obesity later in life, and most of us have heard that “breast is best”.

More doctors are saying we need to be looking very closely at the first 18 months of life as a kind of “critical period” for a person’s weight proclivities. They’re concerned about something called “epigenetic changes” in which genes inherited from mom and dad can be turned on or off and a child’s set point for hunger and weight can change.

My own pregnancies were full of dire warnings about excessive weight gain. I gained between 60 and 70 pounds with each kid, and was told by a variety of medical experts that I’d develop diabetes, that I’d be fat forever, that my kids would be fat and unhealthy.

At birth, they were big girls, weighing 9.5 and 10.6 pounds respectively. A few years out, I’m back down to my pre-baby weight (even a bit thinner, actually), and both the girls are tall stringy kids with maaaaaybe a pound of body fat between the two of them.

So I’m taking all this advice about fat babies growing up to be fat kids with about a pound of proverbial salt.

Photo: Chris Dlugosz

More by Sierra Black:

Mean Girls on the Playground

Honey, Don’t Bother the Gray Lady. She’s Busy Angering Mommy Bloggers

Should You Have Kids?

Did You Really Call That Kid A D-bag?

The Baby Sleep Wars

More on Babble

About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Obesity Starts In The Womb

  1. Meghan says:


    One anecdote (your person story), does not rule out scientific studies. I usually like your posts, and read your site as well. This post was fine until that last comment. The fact that you may be an outlier with regard to these studies does not mean that they should be taken with “a pound of salt.” There are also people who smoke for 50 years and never develop lung cancer; does this mean I should take those studies with “a pound of salt.”?

  2. Sierra Black says:

    It’s a good point Meghan. Anecdote is not data, and it drives me nuts when other people pretend it is. Mea Culpa.

    That said, this data remains nebulous. The studies point to *something* in the first 18 months of life that causes long term weight problems, but they don’t really know what it is yet. I’m worried that parents and kids could get guilt tripped about weight when in fact they are healthy, as was the case with me and my kids. It’s clear we all need to be healthier. I work out and eat no sugar and insist that my kids stay active and eat healthy even though we’re all thin. I just don’t want to come down heavily on the side of Weight Watchers for the pre-K set without more info.

  3. [...] Despite the adorable rolls and cuddly chub, studies show that babies who are big at birth are at a higher risk of obesity later in life. [...]

  4. [...] While you’re working off the baby weight, here are a few tips getting baby’s chubby thighs into shape. After all, obesity starts at birth (or before!). [...]

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