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Wayne State University study shows one third of U.S. babies are obese or at risk for obesity

January 5, 2011
Brian MossDETROIT-A study led by Brian Moss of Wayne State University's School of Social Work reveals that one third of infants in the U.S. are obese or at risk of obesity. In addition, of the 8,000 infants studied, those found to be obese at 9 months had a higher risk of being obese at 2 years. Other studies have revealed that being obese in early childhood increases the risk for later childhood obesity and could lead to other obesity-related health problems like heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity in this country has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

Moss, in collaboration with William H. Yeaton from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, published their analysis, "Young Children's Weight Trajectories and Associated Risk Factors: Results from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B)," in the January/February 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The ECLS-B draws from a representative sample of American children born in 2001 with diverse socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds. It is one of the first studies to monitor weight status changes of a nationally representative sample of very young children.

For their study, Moss and Yeaton used results from ECLS-B to follow the trajectory of the infants' weight status at 9 months and 2 years, then performed statistical analyses to examine whether weight persistence, loss or gain was linked to demographic characteristics such as sex, race/ethnicity, geographic region or socioeconomic status. Children with weight-for-height above the 95th percentile on standard growth charts were considered obese; children in the 85th to 95th percentile were considered at risk for obesity.

Some of their results show that:

  • 31.9 percent of 9-month-olds were at risk or obese;
  • 34.3 percent of 2-year-olds were obese or at risk for obesity;
  • 17 percent of the infants  were obese at 9 months, rising to 20 percent at 2 years;
  • 44 percent of the infants who were obese at 9 months remained obese at 2 years;
  • Hispanic and low-income children were at greater risk for weight status gain;
  • Females and Asian/Pacific Islanders were at lower risk for undesirable weight changes;
  • 40 percent of 2-year-olds from the lowest income homes were at risk or obese compared to 27 percent of those from the highest income homes.

"This study shows that a significant proportion of very young children in the United States is at risk or is obese," said Moss. The team notes a consistent pattern of obesity starting early in life.

"As obesity becomes an increasing public health concern, these findings will help guide health practitioners by targeting high risk populations and foster culturally sensitive interventions aimed at prevention and treatment of obesity," Moss said.

"We are not saying that overweight babies are doomed to be obese adults.  However, we have found evidence that being overweight at 9 months puts you on track for being overweight or obese later in childhood."

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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