Matthew Gillman, MD, associate professor in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and colleagues collected data from well-child visits at 14 Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates practices in eastern Massachusetts from 1980 through 2001.

Over the course of the study, the prevalence of overweight children increased from 6.3 percent to 10 percent, a 59 percent jump. The proportion of children at risk of becoming overweight grew from 11.1 percent to 14.4 percent overall, a 30 percent jump. Infants from birth to six months of age, an age group seldom studied before, had particularly surprising results. Of all the age groups studied, these infants had the greatest jump in risk of becoming overweight, at 59 percent, and the number of overweight infants increased by 74 percent.

“This information is important to public health because previous studies show that accelerated weight gain in the first few months after birth is associated with obesity later in life,” says Gillman.

“In addition to demonstrating that we are seeing more heavy infants today than we did 20 years ago, this study illustrates the usefulness of routinely collected information from doctors’ offices to address a key public health issue,” says Juhee Kim, PhD.

“These results show that efforts to prevent obesity must start at the earliest stages of human development, even before birth,” says Gillman. “These efforts should include avoiding smoking and excessive weight gain during pregnancy, preventing gestational diabetes, and promoting breastfeeding, all of which researchers have shown to be associated with reductions in childhood overweight.”; Source: Harvard Medical School