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A Quarter Of Our Babies: Classed To Heavy

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 A Quarter Of Our Babies: Classed To Heavy

Parents are now being told to offer their babies less food in order to curb the growing obesity problem in the UK according to a Mail report (05 05 09 - Jenny Hope).

It is understood that growth charts that have been previously used over the last twenty years have now been scrapped in a last ditch attempt of stopping children from becoming obese.

However and worryingly, experts have argues that the new advice see one in four one-year-olds re-classified as ‘too heavy’. Moreover, the charts had been devised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the intention is to reflect the slower weight-gain of breastfeeding babies, rather than the faster growth of those fed on formula milk.

Ironically, they replace measures used since 1990, which contributed to the obesity crisis because they were based on the growth of babies predominantly fed with formula milk. Infants given the high-protein bottled milk tend to be larger and gain weight more rapidly. Health visitors using the out-of-date charts may have told some mothers to top up breast milk with the bottle - or even to stop breastfeeding altogether, it is claimed.

The new charts are supported by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and cover children up to the age of four. Chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, Tam Fry, has been campaigning for the charts to be adopted, said it would make a big difference in the first year.

Up to a quarter will ’shift up a level’ on the adapted graph, he said. ‘More children will be classified as overweight and obese in the early years of life based on weight gain in the first year, which is a real marker for future health.’ He added: ‘Our concern is, the training of health professionals is way behind schedule, with the first courses not due until next month, which will leave many mothers without the advice they need.’

Most experts agree breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies, and the Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of six months. At present, only 25 per cent of mothers in the UK breastfeed their babies at least some of the time for the first six months, and many of these also give their babies some formula.

The WHO charts are based on records of 8,000 babies from six cities around the world, who were exclusively breastfed for at least four months, with continued breastfeeding into their second year. Within the UK it is estimated that a quarter of five to 12-year-olds are overweight or obese, due partly to overfeeding in their infancy, research shows.

Belinda Phipps, of the National Childbirth Trust, said: ‘Health visitors have given misleading advice because the charts are based on formula-fed babies. Breastfed babies tend to be lighter but we have a cultural belief that heavier is better.

‘Mothers have been worried and health visitors have been worried about babies being too light, when that should be normal. As a result mothers were encouraged to overfeed their babies, by giving them formula milk unnecessarily’.

‘This either replaced breastfeeding or was given as a top up, which actually interrupted breastfeeding and often brought it to an end. We’re now dealing with the long-term health implications for mother and baby, which include overweight children, simply because we’ve been using the wrong charts.’ A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘The new UK-WHO growth charts will not only provide more accurate measurements for infant growth of breastfed babies, but will also help healthcare professionals and parents to identify early signs of overweight or obesity and provide support.’

Essentially the charts are used in order to assess a child’s progress based on weight and length/height, in bands according to age in weeks or months. Existing measures say a healthy one-year-old weighs between 22.5lb and 28.5lb. But the new version says the ideal range is between 21lb and 26lb. The range of ‘healthy’ weights for all ages will be narrower, with slightly fewer deemed underweight.

Rapid weight-gain is regarded as most hazardous in the first year. It has been linked to obesity and increased risk of cancer and heart disease in later life.

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