Obese infants, dieting moms

Babies who are too fat, and moms who teach their kids to fret every calorie. When will it end?

Published August 10, 2006 6:03PM (EDT)

This week, there are two news stories about women, kids and diets that when read together present a pretty bleak picture of the American foodscape, all the way from obsessive dieting to infant obesity. The first, an Associated Press story, which has gotten wide pickup, looks at how mothers' dieting sends the wrong message to their kids, especially daughters. When it comes to counting calories and celebrating losing a few pounds, adolescent girls model their mother's habits from a young age, researchers at Harvard Medical School found. "It's like trying on Mom's high heels. They're trying on their diets, too," Carolyn Costin, a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorder Association, told the AP.

The other big weight news declares that even our infants are too fat! Researchers at Harvard, writing in the journal Obesity, found that Massachusetts children under age 6 have gotten heavier since 1980, and the biggest jump has been for babies under 6 months. Some doctors suspect that the change reflects not what infants are eating once they're born but what they got back in the womb. "Pregnant women in general are more overweight these days," Laura Riley, medical director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Globe. "More obese women become pregnant, and more women who are overweight when they become pregnant then gain too much weight during pregnancy." She added: "If you overdo it during pregnancy, you're setting yourself up for a bigger baby. You could be setting your baby up for a lifetime of weight problems." Doctors recommend breast-feeding, which may teach a baby to regulate its food intake better than bottle-feeding, and advise mothers to avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy.

I'm not disputing the accuracy of either of these articles, or the studies they're based on. And it's important for public health that this sort of news gets reported. Yet, it would be helpful if there were more public discussion of what healthy eating is, as well. At this point, there's so much bizarreness around eating in our culture that just once I'd like to read about, say, parents with more or less good eating habits who manage to model those behaviors for their kids, or news of a study that examines the behavior of the same. Do healthy eaters still exist in America? Can we maybe hear about them once in a while?

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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