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Give child early start toward healthy weight

July 10, 2002|By LYNN F. LITTLE

Everyone, it seems, is talking about the problems of overweight, inactive Americans. Even President Bush is getting into the act.

Bush, along with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, has launched a Healthier US Initiative to get us all moving more and making healthier food choices.

It's never too early to set the stage for a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight.

Feeding choices during infancy and early childhood may have a lifetime impact on an individual's weight.

Research shows that breastfeeding during the first year of life, and delaying the introduction of solid foods until about four to six months, can reduce the risk of obesity later in life.

The first year of life is the time when humans grow the fastest. Most babies double their birth weight by five to six months, and triple it by one year.

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Health providers check heights and weights at each visit to see that infants are gaining enough, but not too much, weight.

A recent study suggested that early overfeeding and excessive weight gain during infancy could increase the risk of childhood obesity.

No one is suggesting that parents should be putting babies on diets or restricting their food intake. The goal is to help infants regulate their own food intake -- based on internal cues of hunger and fullness -- and to eat enough for healthy growth.

When it comes to a healthy weight, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound -- or many pounds -- of cure.

Establishing healthy eating habits has lifetime benefits.

According to child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter, the key to a healthy feeding relationship is a division of responsibility between the parent (or other caregiver) and child.

Parent's Feeding Tasks


  • Choose and prepare foods.

  • Provide regular meals and snacks.

  • Make eating times pleasant.

  • Offer chances to learn new skills.



Children's Eating Capabilities


  • Children know how much to eat.

  • Children will eat a variety of food.

  • Children will grow predictably.

  • Children's eating will mature.



Since all babies are unique, talk to your doctor, nurse or dietitian about what foods your baby needs and when to begin them.

Here are the usual ages for beginning new foods -- and, remember, no cow's milk for the first year of life.

  • Birth to 4 to 6 months: Babies need only breast milk or iron-fortified infant formula

  • At 4 to 6 months add iron-fortified cereal to replenish babies' iron reserves.

  • At 6 to 8 months begin pureed/mashed fruits and veggies for vitamins A and C.

  • At 7 to 10 months move to finger foods like dry cereal.

    Use cup for water or juice.

  • At 8 to 12 months introduce soft/cooked table foods and finely chopped meats.



It's important to discuss your baby's weight gain pattern with your doctor or WIC clinic. Find out how your child is growing and discuss the healthiest options for food choices.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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