Racial Differences Among Parenting Shed Light on Infants' Obesity Risk

Parental behavior is linked to a child's risk for obesity later in life, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

A child’s risk for obesity can be influenced by parents’ behavior, especially in minority groups, according to a study published in the April 2014 issue of Pediatrics.

For their study, researchers observed the habits of 863 low-income parents — 86% of whom were insured by Medicaid — and their 2-month-old babies to examine how race and ethnicity influenced behavior. The participants were 50% Hispanic, 27% black, and 18% white, and were all enrolled in randomized trials of obesity prevention at 4 healthcare centers. The participants were surveyed about their routines, including infant feeding, and activity behaviors thought to increase obesity risk.

The study results showed exclusive formula feeding was more than twice as common (45%) as exclusive breastfeeding (19%), and 12% of the babies had been introduced to solid food. The parents also engaged in behaviors that lead to overfeeding: 43% put infants to bed with bottles, 23% propped up bottles instead of holding bottles by hand, 20% always fed when the infant cried, and 38% always tried to get their children to finish their milk.

Physical activity was also limited among the participants. Almost all infants (90%) were exposed to television for an average of 346 minutes per day, and 50% of that group actively watched television, which was defined as parents putting their children in front of a television in order to watch it. Additionally, two-thirds of children did not meet recommendations for “tummy time,” or when a baby lies on their belly to play under parent supervision.

“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, ” lead study author Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, said in a statement. “While we don’t know the exact causes of obesity, families of all races and ethnicities need early counseling to lead healthier lives.”