Newswise — Those cute little rolls of fat some infants have may actually slow their ability to crawl and walk, according to a new study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The study, published recently online in The Journal of Pediatrics, shows that infants who are overweight may be slower than thinner babies to develop motor skills.
“This is concerning because children with motor skill delays may be less physically active and thus less likely to explore the environment beyond arm’s reach,” said Meghan Slining, a nutrition doctoral student at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and lead author of the study.
[Video: To see a video of Slining talking about the study, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M42sNfxpLfk]
The findings are based on observations of 217 African-American first-time mothers who participated in the Infant Care, Feeding and Risk of Obesity Study, a UNC research project funded by the National Institutes of Health. The project is examining – in a population at risk of obesity – how parenting and infant feeding styles relate to infant diet and the risk of babies becoming overweight. The mothers ranged in age from 18 to 35 and their babies were 3 months old. Researchers visited the mothers and infants in their homes between 2003 and 2007. They weighed and measured the children at each visit, and also assessed their motor skills at 3, 6, 9, 12 and 18 months.
The researchers found that overweight infants were about twice as likely (1.8 times) as non-overweight infants to have a low score on the Psychomotor Development Index test, reflecting delayed motor development. Infants with high subcutaneous fat (rolls of fat under their skin) were more than twice as likely (2.32 times) as babies without fat rolls to have a low score.
“There are a number of studies that show that weight status during the infancy and toddler years can set young children on an obesity trajectory that may be hard to change,” Slining said. “Our study shows that there are actually immediate consequences as well.”
The study’s co-authors include Margaret Bentley, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and associate dean for global health in the UNC public health school, and senior investigator of the Infant Care, Feeding and Risk of Obesity Study. Bentley is also associate director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center. Other co-authors are Linda Adair, Ph.D., UNC nutrition professor and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center; Barbara Davis Goldman, Ph.D., coordinator of infant learning and assessment at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute; and Judith Borja, Ph.D., nutrition specialist in the Office of Population Studies Foundation, University of San Carolos, Cebu City, Philippines.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Mead Johnson Children’s Nutrition Small Research Grants Program at UNC.
For more information, see www.jpeds.com.