Parents’ feeding habits may be increasing childhood obesity

A woman feeds her baby with a bottle in Caracas on June 18, 2013. Leo Ramirez, Getty Images

TORONTO — Feeding babies fruit juice. Leaving the infant in front of the TV with a bottle propped up to his mouth. Or even introducing solid food too soon and forcing your child to finish her meal.

U.S. scientists are wagging their fingers at busy, multitasking parents who cut corners and adopt habits such as these, that they say may be contributing to obesity in their children later on in life.

Regardless of race and ethnicity, parents are cutting corners in feeding, University of North Carolina researchers warn.

“What this study taught us is that we can do better. While we don’t know the exact causes of obesity, families of all races and ethnicities need early counseling to lead healthier lives,” lead author and pediatrician Dr. Eliana Perrin said.

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“These results from a large population of infants — especially the high rates of television watching — teach us that we must begin obesity prevention even earlier,” she said.

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Her study followed a large, diverse sample of 863 low-income parents who were part of an obesity prevention trial in four U.S. cities.

Some of the habits that are allegedly linked to obesity later on included:

  • Introducing solid food to babies at only four months old (12 per cent)
  • Putting babies to bed with bottles (43 per cent)
  • Propping bottles up to their babies’ mouths instead of holding the bottle by hand — this can lead to overfeeding (23 per cent)
  • Giving a baby the bottle when they cry (20 per cent)
  • Always getting their infants to finish their milk (38 per cent)

Twice as many parents were relying only on baby formula compared to breastfeeding exclusively.

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Some babies at only two months old spend long hours in front of the TV — sometimes watching the screen themselves or while being looked after by their parents. Some parents fed their babies while watching TV, a habit that could carry throughout the baby’s lifetime. But the study noted that 90 per cent of infants were exposed to the TV with half purposely put in front of the screen.

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In other cases, parents weren’t giving their babies enough “tummy time” — when babies lay on their bellies and lift their heads, strengthening their neck and upper back muscles.

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Perrin’s full findings were published Monday night in the journal Pediatrics.

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