Feeding up’ of babies to be curbed
THOUSANDS of obese and overweight babies, fattened by mothers on medical advice, are to be identified by National Health Service charts.
Health experts say the growth measurements, introduced at the start of this month, should end the “severe cultural problem” of encouraging babies to put on a lot of weight too quickly.
For the first time the tables, drawn up by the World Health Organisation, are based entirely on the rate of growth of breastfed babies, which tend to put on weight more slowly than those given formula milk in their first year.
The figures used until now have been based mainly on formula-fed babies. This has meant breastfeeding mothers have been wrongly told to “feed up” their infants, putting them at risk of obesity. This problem afflicts many bottle-fed babies.
Tim Cole, professor of medical statistics at the Institute of Child Health at University College London, and one of the experts who has adapted the charts for Britain, said: “We have this severe cultural problem, which is that babies are expected to grow fast.
“What this chart is trying to do is to suggest that babies shouldn’t be growing so fast and that they shouldn’t be as big.”
Cole added: “The way breastfed babies grow will now become the norm. With the previous charts a breastfed baby could be growing perfectly normally but would appear to the health visitor not to be growing as fast as the charts recommended, so there might have been pressure to wean early [on to solid foods or formula milk].
“Thin babies will [now] not appear to be so thin and fat babies will appear to be more fat. The fat babies are likely to be formula fed, growing very fast and developing problems with obesity.”
Cole has been advised by paediatricians that some obese babies are twice average weight by their first birthday.
Rapid weight gain in the first nine months of a baby girl’s life could make her more likely to be overweight later in childhood, according to research by Bristol and Cambridge universities.
The Child Growth Foundation, which has been campaigning for the charts, says breastfed babies are, on average, 1lb lighter than those fed solely on formula milk at 12 months. Tam Fry, who chairs the foundation, said: “When babies are being overfed this will become more noticeable.”
Fewer than one in two mothers still breastfeed at six weeks and this falls to 25% at six months. Fewer than 1% of mothers follow official advice to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of an infant’s life.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The new charts will not only provide more accurate data but will also help professionals and parents to identify early signs of overweight or obesity and provide support.”