Preventing Childhood Obesity Starts the Day Your Baby is Born

May 30, 2018

Mom and baby Every parent wants their child to grow up healthy and happy. One of the most important ways you can put your child on that path is to make sure their bodies receive the right kind of nourishment to fuel their growth. It seems straightforward, yet childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. The latest research from the Centers for Disease Control reveals that one in five school age children and young people (6-19 years of age) are obese.

What can parents do?

It’s a topic that Katrina Willie-Musoma, M.D., at USMD Mansfield Clinic has been talking with parents about for well over a decade. Not only is Dr. Willie-Musoma a board-certified pediatrician who’s been practicing for 10 years, her undergraduate degree is in nutrition sciences, and she taught nutrition classes for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program before becoming a pediatrician. She understands that every person’s battle against obesity actually begins the day they are born. That’s why it’s so important for parents to follow a few simple guidelines.

Breastfeeding reduces the risk for childhood obesity.

“If you can breastfeed your baby, it’s one of the first preventions against childhood obesity,” says Dr. Willie-Musoma. “We don’t exactly know why, but eating real and natural food is the best thing we can have starting from age zero throughout our lives.”

Along with antibodies that help reduce colds, sinus and ear infections, diarrhea and constipation, breast milk has a high fat content. “Breast-fed babies get pretty plump and chunky,” says Dr. Willie-Musoma. “Their growth trajectory is very different than formula-fed babies in terms of how big they get in the first six months of life. There is some good scientific evidence that shows that a healthy amount of baby fat early on is protective against long-term obesity.”

If you are unable to breastfeed, Dr. Willie-Musoma recommends giving your baby a pediatrician-approved formula.

Don’t introduce solid foods too soon.

Childhood obesity has also been linked to when babies first started eating solid foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding babies for the first six months of life, provided the baby is satisfied with breastmilk.

“My general recommendation is to start the introduction of solid foods at six months of age,” Dr. Willie-Musoma adds. “But some babies are very, very hungry and start having solid foods somewhere between four to six months. It’s something I always discuss with moms and dads during the four-month wellness check and customize a feeding plan based on the baby’s growth. But even with the gradual introduction of solids—infant cereal, pureed fruits, vegetables, and meats—the baby’s primary source of nutrition should still be breast milk or formula.”

Solid food should be given by a spoon.

“This is one of the most protective things parents can do to help prevent obesity,” says Dr. Willie-Musoma. “All solid food should be offered by spoon. Never put cereal in a bottle unless there is a medical reason and your pediatrician advises you to do so. Babies understand fullness by volume, so if it’s two ounces, that two ounces could be 60 calories or 120 calories. If you add cereal to a bottle, you’ve dramatically increased the number of calories in that two ounces—and that’s how babies overeat. Many of our mothers and grandmothers may have put cereal in a bottle, and we were advised that doing so would help the baby sleep better through the night. But it can backfire—not only from an obesity standpoint, but from challenging the baby’s GI system.”

Baby teeth open up more food options.

“At about nine months children need to be eating more of the foods their parents are eating,” says Dr. Willie-Musoma. “While infants less than one year old cannot have honey, whole milk, or foods that are choking hazards, they can eat real fruits and vegetables cut up and prepared in a way that allows them to pick up the food and digest it well.”

The first birthday marks a shift to mainly solid foods.

During their peak growth, an infant can be drinking between 30-36 ounces a day, but by their first birthday, the majority of calories—80 percent—need to come from solid food and not liquids.

“At one year, you should be offering your child three meals and one or two snacks a day,” Dr. Willie-Musoma advises. “Calories from a liquid source should be no more than 12 to 16 ounces a day and the liquid should be organic whole milk—not juice or soda. Sugar-sweetened beverages can make it very challenging to maintain a healthy weight when your metabolism slows down as you become an adult. Children should drink water and milk.”

Model healthy eating for your kids.

Remember, your children—especially very young children—are eager to be just like you, so let them see you eating real, healthy food throughout your life.

“We want our kids to grow up to have a healthy relationship with food and understand their hunger cues,” says Dr. Willie-Musoma. “Sometimes that can be challenging, depending on how you were raised—even in terms of understanding what real food is. But for everyone, real food is natural food that provides the healthies calories with the most vitamins and minerals, not food loaded with calories that don’t nurture the body.”

Mealtimes offer an important opportunity to make a life-long impression on your children.

“There’s a lot of talk about families having dinner together every night, but often that isn’t realistic. If your family can have a dedicated meal time together several days a week, though, it will help you set a good example for your kids. They can see you eating slowly, eating until you’re satisfied, enjoying food, eating fruits and vegetables and drinking water. Observing those behaviors helps children grow up with a positive relationship with food and reduces their risk for obesity.”

Read more about Dr. Willie-Musoma or schedule an appointment with her at 817.557.5437.

Katrina Willie-Musoma, M.D., at USMD Mansfield Clinic wants parents to know that one of the most important ways you can put your child on that path is to make sure their bodies receive the right kind of nourishment to fuel their growth.

Dr. Katrina Willie-Musoma, USMD Health System