Is a heavy baby a fat baby?

Ah, back to this topic. I’ve mentioned before Boybug’s ample stature, and that at seven months the health visitor advised me to consider portion control (I didn’t do it). But was she right? Am I over-feeding Boybug? Is he heavy or fat or both?

I read this on the BBC last week:

“Researchers used the data to compare the eating habits of overweight children – classed as being in the heaviest 15% in their age group – and those of a healthy weight.

The report found overweight children were consuming larger meals than their counterparts (141 calories versus 130 calories).”

The protective mother in me wanted to go find the writer and explain that Boybug wasn’t overweight, just big. The neurotic mother in me wanted to put Boybug on the scales and maybe not let him have any more biscuits. The scientist in me just sighed and shook her head. The public health advocate in me wondered if this was the best way of getting a message across.

Let’s start with the scientist-me

How can there be any justification for defining overweight as the heaviest 15% of a population? My husband weighs more than me (at the moment), he’s 6 foot 3, I’m 5’5. If I weigh more than him then one of us is unhealthy, or I’m pregnant! Surely you can’t just take no notice of height or build, even in children!

But more fundemental than that, where is the causation here? I’m sure there are some children in the heaviest 15% that have an unhealthy diet or eat too much. Then there will be children who are a healthy weight for their build, but fall into this group because they are tall. They may well eat more than their shorter counterparts – it’s not the food making them heavy, it’s their height, and them requiring more food because of that height. Again, my husband eats more than me – he’s far taller!

To be fair to the author, the report was presented at a conference, this may have been preliminary data, they may not have implied causation, and I haven’t seen the original report. In the lead authors other papers, generally Body Mass Index is used. While not perfect, at least it accounts for some different body types! Maybe it’s poor reporting from the BBC. Regardless, it has put me on the defensive.

And the protective mother-me

I didn’t track down the journalist, or the original researcher, to plead our innocence. So I’m doing it here to make me feel better instead! Boybug obviously falls into this 15% category, but in his defence he was off the chart for height last time he was measured and his head is on the 98th percentile (ouch!). He’s just a big lad. He’s not got any rolls of fat on him (any more), and is healthy and active.


But maybe I’m delusional. We know that a mother’s perception of her child is way off, that we don’t recognise obesity. I’ve seen it in the scientific literature, but also watched TV programs, aghast that a mother doesn’t recognise the impact of her child’s weight.

But I really don’t think I am delusional, I think his BMI would be fine. Boybug eats when he’s hungry (or bored, but I try to curb that if I can). He eats a reasonable portion of healthy food and generally has fruit after. He has a biscuit (or five if he can get away with it) at playgroup, but we don’t generally have sweet treats in the house. He’s never told to finish his plate, to hurry up, that he’s a good boy for scoffing his own body weight in pasta, or that he’s naughty for hiding his peas under his fork. 

He’s just quite tall and broad. Have I sold my side of the story sufficiently? 
And the public health advocate-me

It’s clear we have a problem with childhood obesity (not me personally, nationally, internationally). While I can defend Boybug, and critique this one study, there are definitely children being over fed, or fed the wrong thing. This has major consequences for their future health, for their confidence, for their ability to live life to the fullest. Clearly something needs to be done.

I would suggest admonishing parents in national media for over feeding children (based on iffy data) is probably not the way to go. Putting parents on the defensive detracts from the issues. It’s an issue of education (in a collaborative, non-patronising manner), of socioeconomics and food availability, of time management, and of inherited eating patterns. 

I saw these nice guides a few weeks ago from the First Steps Nutrition Trust. Reading through them, I give myself 8 out of 10 for what my kids eat. I’m feeling a bit smug, even if Boybug is in the heaviest 15%. They also have some great lunchbox ideas too. 

But these little leaflets appeal to people like me. People who are (a bit) knowledgable about nutrition, who have the disposable income to buy cute little tupperwares for their various lunchbox components, that buy fresh and in season, who have the time and enthusiasm to cook fresh and meal plan because they’re not working three jobs, who have had the luck of growing up in a household where food was important, balanced, home cooked.

That’s not to say that some people like me don’t overfeed their children, I’m sure some do. And it’s worthwhile increasing awareness of not forcing children to finish their plates, of giving appropriate portions, of not creating battles around food. These are easy wins in the fight against childhood obesity. But there are also some harder, bigger battles to be fought.

And the neurotic mother-me

I told her not to be silly and to pay more attention to “scientist-me”. She knows the score.

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7 thoughts on “Is a heavy baby a fat baby?

  1. If ‘scientist you’ is your gut feeling, then it is right. You are intelligent and a great mum – you are making all the right choices for boybug. When he is a teenager he will eat like a moose and that is fine too. Remember: YOU KNOW BEST X

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  2. Thank you for the first steps guide link. I think I have the exact opposite problem so the guides will help me guage if I’m getting my daughter to eat enough. She is in the bottom 5% and I am trying to determine if its genetics kicking in or I’m just not doing enough to get her to eat more. You’re doing a fantastic job and a great mom!

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  3. Nope, don’t worry. My two are the same weight – there are 3 years between them. His feet are a size 6, hers are a 4. An adult size 6 and he is nine. She’s tiny, but he’s enormous – both are skinny as you like. Which one is healthier? Neither. Both eat well and are happy children with far too much energy for my own good. If your babybugs are happy and well, ignore what the scales say, the charts, the graphs, the health visitors and the busibodies.

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  4. I know that the oldest is a little ‘overweight’ but she is still going through growth spurts where she’ll be a little chubster one minute and then overnight she’ll shoot up.

    The baby just got weighed, he’s on the 25th percentile – which is much better than below the 2nd where both he and his sister were around 2/3m but not following in his sister’s 91st centile weight footsteps.
    He does have a 98th centile bonce though.

    I think as long as they eat healthily and run around a lot there’s not much else to be done???

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