Many parents' infant-feeding, TV and activity practices increase obesity risk

March 17, 2014

Most parents included in a new study reported some infant feeding and activity behaviors that are believed to increase a child’s risk for obesity later in life.

Dr. Asheley Skinner

Dr. Asheley Skinner

Asheley C. Skinner, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is a co-author of the study, which will be published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers found that many of these “obesogenic” behaviors were highly prevalent among all of the parents, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Black parents were more likely to put children to bed with a bottle and report TV watching, while Hispanic parents were more likely to encourage children to finish feeding and to report less “tummy time” – when a baby lays on her belly to play while a parent supervises.

“These results from a large population of infants — especially the high rates of television watching — teach us that we must begin obesity prevention even earlier, ” said lead author Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine and UNC-Chapel Hill’s associate vice chancellor for research..

The study included a large, diverse sample of 863 low-income parents participating in Greenlight, an obesity prevention trial taking place at four medical centers: UNC, New York University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Miami. Fifty percent of the parents were Hispanic, 27 percent were black and 18 percent were white. Most of the parents in the sample (86 percent) were on Medicaid.

Behaviors thought to be related to later obesity in children were highly prevalent among all parents. Exclusive formula feeding was more than twice as common (45 percent) as exclusive breastfeeding (19 percent). Twelve percent of the parents already had introduced solid food, 43 percent put infants to bed with bottles, 23 percent propped bottles instead of holding the bottle by hand (which can result in overfeeding), 20 percent always fed when the infant cried, and 38 percent always tried to get their children to finish their milk.

In addition, 90 percent of the infants were exposed to television, and 50 percent actively watched TV (meaning parents put their children in front of the television in order to watch).

“What this study taught us is that we can do better,” said Perrin, a practicing pediatrician. “While we don’t know the exact causes of obesity, families of all races and ethnicities need early counseling to lead healthier lives. That counseling should be culturally tailored, and we are hoping our research sheds light on the best ways to do that.”

Other study co-authors are Russell L. Rothman, MD, MPP; Lee M. Sanders, MD, MPH; Svetlana K. Eden, MS; Ayumi Shintani, PhD, MPH; Elizabeth M. Throop, BA; and H. Shonna Yin, MD, MS.


 
Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.