Why are happier babies more likely to be obese children? Researchers suspect easily-soothed infants are fed more sugary juice rewards – making them fatter in later life
- Childhood obesity plagues 17 percent of children in the US
- Risk factors are complex and include both genetic and environmental elements
- A new Buffalo-State University of New York study has linked easily-soothed temperaments in babies to higher risks of obesity as children
- Mothers whose babies were easily soothed and became obese were also more likely to calm their kids with sweet juices before they were six months old
- The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents not to give babies fruit juices that are high in sugar but are essentially empty calories
Happy babies might make obese children, a new study suggests.
The new research, from the Buffalo-State University of New York, found that the more easily parents could calm and soothe their infants, the more at-risk their children were to become obese by age five.
Obesity’s causes are complex, involving genetic and environmental factors alike – and one of those factors might be that mothers and fathers are eagerly rewarding their well-behaved babies with sweet juices from a young age.
A good temperament can hardly be pegged as a cause for childhood obesity, but researchers suspect these sweet treats might introduce a taste for sugar.
Babies that are easily soothed by their mothers are more likely to become obese children, and it may be because they get sugary juices to placate them when they are fussy, a study suggests
It may also be a bit of a chicken-or-egg scenario.
The researchers found that good temperaments in babies were linked to both childhood obesity and to early introduction of sweetened juices.
So this could mean that babies were more likely to have good temperaments because they were being placated with fruit juices early on.
Or, it could mean that babies were often rewarded with sweet juices because they were not fussy.
Whether parents have a crying infant that they just want to calm down, or a happy baby they are delighted to treat, it’s understandable that parents would want to give their little ones some sweet juice.
In the new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, the parents whose children were most likely to become obese didn’t so much have babies that never cried as babies that they knew how to quickly calm down: with juice.
But this actually goes against the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The association of doctors suggests that parents should wait until their babies are at least one year old.
While orange and other fruit juices contain some vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to older kids, prior research has established that these drinks don’t offer any nutritional benefits to infants under 12 months.
In 2017, the AAP updated its guidelines to advise against any fresh or concentrated juices for infants.
While juices have these vitamins and minerals, they lack the dietary fiber in fruit that slows down the absorption of sugar.
So juice is more like a straight shot of glucose to infants – which puts them at risk of gaining excess weight.
Of the 382 pairs of babies and mothers included in the study, the babies that calmed down most quickly when their mothers tried to soothe them were most likely to later become obese.
They also showed signs of developing gluten intolerance, which may have been related to the high propensity of their mothers to start them on juice early.
Women who breastfed longer, on the other hand, were less likely to wind up raising overweight or diabetic children years later, once more suggesting the protective effects of a mother’s milk.
Notably, the mothers included in the study had suffered gestational diabetes, which in itself is linked to an increase risk of obesity for their children.
This is not the first study to link infant temperament to obesity, but it underscores an easier sign that parents can watch for from their children’s earliest ages.
‘Studies of early-life obesity and diabetes prevention might pay greater attention to temperament traits, which parents may recognize from birth more easily than obesity risk,’ the authors wrote.
They suggested that doctors work with mothers to implement ways of calming their crying little ones that don’t involve a sweet treat.