Athens, Ga. – Infants who received targeted interventions aimed at preventing obesity showed reduced rapid infant weight gain, which is linked to later obesity, in an ongoing study led in part by a University of Georgia researcher.
The study involving nearly 300 first-time mothers and their infants showed promise that “responsive parenting techniques” can be effective in reducing rapid growth in infancy and risk of obesity later in life.
The Intervention Nurses Start Infants Growing on Healthy Trajectories (INSIGHT) randomized clinical trial, launched in 2012, delivered messages about infant feeding, sleep routines, active social play, emotion regulation and growth chart education to first-time parents by research nurses.
“First-time parents are more likely to overfeed because they don’t have some of the ‘tricks of the trade’ to help a baby down-regulate negative emotions,” said Leann Birch, the William P. Flatt Childhood Obesity Professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and one of the study’s principal investigators
It’s common to assume a crying baby is hungry, and to give a feeding to soothe the baby, even though something else might be causing the crying, Birch said.
The interventions were designed to help the infants develop self-regulation skills and promote longer nighttime sleep duration.
Parents learned to recognize infant hunger and fullness, and to soothe a crying baby using white noise, swaddling or car rides – rather than using feeding as the first response to distress.
Mothers were taught to recognize hunger cues, provide appropriate portion sizes, and to use food only for hunger and not as a reward or as a soothing agent for a crying child.
A control group received a home safety intervention also delivered via in-home visits by nurses.
“There’s overwhelming evidence that early rapid growth is problematic,” Birch said. “As Americans, we often think that bigger is better, and that a big baby is a healthy baby, but we now know that growing too fast can increase a child’s risk for obesity.”
Findings from the INSIGHT study are favorable. Infants in the intervention group gained weight more slowly and were less likely to be overweight than infants in the control group at 1 and 2 years.
“We’ve shown that we can reduce early obesity risk in infancy by helping parents respond appropriately to infant needs,” Birch said.
The paper was published in the June 2016 issue of JAMA Pediatrics.
Additional authors are Jennifer S. Savage and Michele Marini with the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University; Stephanie Anzman-Frasca with the State University of New York at Buffalo; and Ian M. Paul with the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.
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