CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -
A new study from the University of Virginia Children's Hospital links infants born with a high birth weight to being more likely to become obese as they grow up.
Researchers at the hospital studied more than 10,000 kindergarten-age children through the second grade.
They originally thought babies born small would have a higher risk for obesity, but data suggested that was not the case.
Researchers say children born above 10 pounds at term were 69 percent more likely than average weight children to be obese by kindergarten and continuing at least through second grade.
UVA Associate Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Mark DeBoer says this could be due to a number of factors, such as genetics, diet or maternal obesity.
“If a mom gains more weight during her pregnancy, then that baby's going to be more likely to be bigger also," he said.
Researchers divided the children studied into three categories: Those who were born small, those who had normal birth weight, and those who were above 10 pounds at birth.
The study also suggests that the children born at an expected weight had an obesity rate of only 14.2 percent by second grade.
“We found that not only are the high birth weight babies the heaviest of all, that they also have a higher risk of obesity and overweight, but they also are gaining more weight over time,” said DeBoer.
Doctors say maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy can help a child have a normal birth weight.
Researchers say pediatricians may want to counsel parents of high birth weight babies early on to prevent obesity in the child and potential health problems later on.
Release from the University of Virginia Children's Hospital:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., July 12, 2017 - Infants born with a high birthweight are more likely to become obese as children, a new study from the University of Virginia Children's Hospital suggests. The researchers say pediatricians may want to counsel parents of high birthweight babies early on to prevent the onset of obesity and the health problems it eventually brings.
The study looked at 10,186 children across the country, both those born at term and those born prematurely. The children born with high birthweight at term were more likely to be obese by kindergarten than their average-weight counterparts. A similar finding held true in the children born prematurely, starting in first grade.
“Infants born with higher birthweight appeared to be at risk from a young age,” researcher Sarah Miller said. “These children may benefit from early attention.”
Children born with a large birthweight (above 10 pounds at term) were 69 percent more likely than average weight children to be obese by kindergarten and continuing at least through second grade, the researchers determined. By second grade, the last grade examined, 23.1 percent of children born with high birthweight were obese. In comparison, children born at the expected weight had an obesity rate of only 14.2 percent by second grade.
Of the premature infants born with high weight for gestational age, 27.8 percent were obese by second grade. Those born at the expected weight had an obesity rate of only 14.2 percent. Those born below the expected weight had an obesity rate of 28 percent.
The study found these relationships despite adjusting for factors such as socioeconomic status, but they did not look at other factors that contribute to the children’s obesity. The researchers suggested that pediatricians might give special attention to parents of high birthweight babies, possibly counseling them on lifestyle habits that could prevent weight gain from a young age, such as reducing television viewing, encouraging physical activity and avoiding sugary drinks and juice.
“We are hopeful that these data may help physicians and families make healthy lifestyle decisions for their young children to avoid later weight problems,” said researcher Mark DeBoer, MD, of the UVA Children’s Hospital.
Overall, almost 17 percent of U.S. children are obese and an additional 15 percent are overweight.
The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal Pediatric Obesity. The research team consisted of Nicole Kapral, Miller, Rebecca Scharf, Matthew J. Gurka and DeBoer.
The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, grant R01HL120960, and a Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Clinical Scientist Development Award.