Study looks at how parents' weight affects children Slim adults with big babies reportedly need not worry

September 25, 1997|By BOSTON GLOBE

Parents of chubby infants and toddlers don't need to fret that their little butterball will grow up to have a weight problem -- unless the parents are obese themselves, a new study concludes.

But by the time a youngster reaches the age of 10, the odds change, the researchers found: A child who is overweight between the ages of 10 and 17 will likely have a lifetime problem regardless of whether their parents are thin or fat.

Although many surmise that children of obese parents are more likely to grow up overweight, the study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine is the first to examine how parents' weight affects their offspring's prospects.

For example, the study finds that chubby babies with obese parents have a 40 percent to 79 percent chance of becoming obese young adults, up to 15 times the risk for plump babies with slim parents. The study defines adult obesity as having a "body-mass index" of greater than 27, roughly equivalent to being 20 percent or more above ideal weight.

"Normal-weight parents don't have to worry about their heavy toddlers -- their 1- or 2-year-old -- growing up to be obese adults," said Dr. Robert C. Whitaker, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati.

But obese parents "should probably be particularly aware that this represents a susceptibility for their child, and that they should start from the very beginning to try to model for the child, the best they can, the proper diet and activity patterns," Whitaker said.

Obesity is a major health problem in the United States and is linked to about 300,000 deaths a year. Studies also show that the prevalence of obesity is rising, with an estimated one-third of American adults and about 20 percent of children and adolescents meeting the definition.

An "even more powerful" finding of the study, said Dr. William H. Dietz, another author of the paper, is the strong relationship between youngsters' obesity between the ages of 10 and 17 and their weight into their 20s and possibly beyond -- regardless of whether their parents are overweight. Dietz is clinical nutrition director at New England Medical Center's Floating Hospital.

For example, the study finds that even children with slim parents have a 64 percent chance of becoming obese adults if they are seriously overweight in their preteen and teen years.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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