Researchers find a connection between birth weight and increased risk of disease
Many of us have heard the correlation between high levels of abdominal fat and an increased risk of various diseases, including heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. However, did you know that the connection between higher levels of abdominal fat and an increased risk of certain diseases actually develops way back in infancy?
Previously, researchers had solidified the link between obesity in childhood and continuing weight issues throughout adulthood. Now, however, researchers find the link between obesity and disease begins far earlier. While everyone adores chubby baby pictures, parents would do well to keep in mind that allowing their child to become obese in infancy can greatly increase their risk of developing health issues later in life.
Adipose Tissue and Endocrine Function
Your body’s fat cells — your adipose tissue — serves far more functions than simply keeping your body warm in inclement weather. In addition to providing valuable warmth and storing necessary calories, your body’s adipose tissue secretes bioactive peptides that impact multiple bodily functions such as appetite, energy levels, insulin production and metabolism. These peptides also help regulate heart rate and blood pressure, which is one reason why obesity and heart disease go hand in hand.
In a study published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found that babies whose body weight and amount of adipose tissue showed the greatest increase before age 2 were most likely to develop insulin sensitivity and increased insulin resistance by the time they were teens.
The study participants consisted of 630 families in which at least one of the parents were obese. A baseline assessment was taken when the children were less than 2 years old. When the baseline was taken, over half of the infants were of a normal weight, with 22 percent being overweight and 24 percent considered obese. When the study participants were between the ages of 10 and 12, an X-ray absorptiometry test, as well as glucose tolerance and exercise tolerance tests, were given.
Researchers found that for each unit of body weight added per the overall length of the infant, insulin resistance increased by nearly 5 percent and insulin sensitivity fell by almost the same amount. In infants who were already overweight or obese, the percentage of increase in insulin resistance, as well as the decrease in insulin sensitivity, nearly doubled.
What This Connection Shows
On the bright side, those who suffer from metabolic disorders, are overweight or obese, or have other health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes or heart disease can breathe a sigh of relief: They are not entirely responsible for their ailments. While certainly later behavioral and dietary changes can lessen their chance of developing said diseases or decrease their severity, their issues likely started way back before they had any control over their behavior or food intake.
For parents of young children, however, the message is starker: The choices you make now in what to feed your infant can have permanent effects on his or her overall health going forward.
Therefore, it is imperative that parents instill healthy dietary and exercise habits in their child from day one. An infant can’t join a gym, of course, but parents should be sure to provide a variety of stimulating toys that encourage physical exercises. Walkers are a good choice. In the earliest years, mobiles and other playthings that encourage baby to roll over and explore their world are ideal.
Feeding time provides a wonderful opportunity for infants to bond with their parents, but the focus should be on the time spent together, and never the quantity of food consumed. Parents should also take great care once the baby has gone from breast milk or formula entirely and they begin to add solid foods to their diet.
While many parents use food as a way to comfort a colicky or fussy child, this practice should be avoided at all costs. That’s because the foods offered are often high in sugar, further throwing off insulin balance. This can lead the body to crave sugar during times of stress, when hormones are thrown into chaos.
Now that we know the damaging effects of excess adipose tissue development in infancy, parents can take proactive steps to ensure their infant has as healthy of a future as possible.