Childhood obesity prevention efforts and culture: why they're related

By Jenna Iacurci, Parent Herald March 19, 01:09 pm

Cultural differences in childcare are an important factor to consider when preventing childhood obesity, a new U.S. study suggests.

Certain practices that supposedly promote childhood obesity - such as putting infants to bed with bottles and feeding them while watching television - are more common in particular racial and ethnic groups when compared to others, researchers say.

"I'm hoping this study is a wakeup call that families of all races and ethnicities need early counseling to lead healthier lives," lead author Dr. Eliana Perrin told Reuters Health.

Perrin and her colleagues noted that more than 25 percent of U.S. children ages two to five are either overweight or obese. Weight problems at an early age can lead to obesity later in life, which in turn can trigger other health problems.

Perrin's team had 863 parents bring their infants to a preventative services visit at one of four university-affiliated pediatric clinics for two months. There they answered questions about various behaviors that past studies have deemed related to childhood obesity - including what infants ate, how the food was given to them, activities parents performed during or around mealtime and measures of babies' physical activity levels.

Researchers found that one third of parents encouraged their infants to finish drinking their bottle of formula, and 43 percent of them even put the bottle with them in their crib at bedtime.

Nearly half of these parents reported feeding their child while watching television, and half of the infants watched an average of 25 minutes of television a day, despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) discourages it for infants under age two.

This unhealthy behavior was prevalent in all racial and ethnic groups, but in some more than others. African-American children watched an average of 51 minutes of television a day, compared to 24 minutes among white children and 11 minutes among Hispanic infants.

Black parents were twice as likely to put their infant to bed with a bottle, though Hispanic parents were twice as likely to coax their child into finishing the bottle compared to white parents.

"Rather than focus on the ethnic and racial differences, these results show us that we can all do better and begin our efforts to prevent obesity earlier in life," Perrin concluded.

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