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Obesity prevention starts early -- really, really early

March 1, 2010 |  6:00 am

Breastfeeding It's never too late for parents and doctors to help children who are overweight or obese to lose weight. But obesity research is pointing more and more to a pivotal time of life when the parameters for future weight appear to be established. And that time period is before conception to age 2.

Harvard University researchers writing in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics say such factors as the mother's pre-pregnancy weight, weight gain during pregnancy and how the infant is fed are emerging as significant determinants of future risk of being overweight or obese. Moreover, when this time period becomes the focus, it becomes clear how and why minority and poor children are at much higher risk for becoming overweight or obese. Cultural traditions, such as how a baby is fed, and factors related to early child care may contribute to the problem.

"If we wait until children are in preschool to address this problem, we may be missing the boat in reducing disparities in childhood obesity among racial and ethnic minority groups," the lead author of the study, Dr. Elsie Taveras, said in a news release.

Researchers tracked large groups of white, black and Latino mother-child pairs to identify the factors that emerged as important. The best news is that most of these factors, such as how the infant is fed, can be addressed with behavior changes.

It's time for doctors and parents to target the pre-conception-through-toddler period as the obesity-prevention years. That means a big focus on reproductive-age women and the parents of infants and toddlers. The March 8 Times Health section will feature more information on the key components of this early-life strategy.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A woman breast-feeding her baby. Being breast-fed for at least six months may lower the risk of  obesity in a child. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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