New research suggests putting low-birth babies on diet to prevent adult obesity


It’s a notion that may sound counterintuitive to parents of underweight babies: putting them on a calorie-restricted diet.

This is particulary true in cultures that prize chubby, cherubic babies.

But given that babies who are born small have a tendency to become overweight and obese later in life, researchers out of California believe that putting infants on a diet of calorie moderation can help prevent weight management problems in their childhood and adolescence.

It’s a finding that comes from new animal studies out of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in which researchers simulated conditions beginning with life in vitro.

First, pregnant rats were fed a reduced calorie diet, resulting in low-birth offspring.

Babies put on a diet of moderate calories during infancy grew into lean, physically active adults, while those given free access to an unrestricted intake of calories grew into inactive, obese adults.

"While many trials that include exercise and various drug therapies have tried to reverse the tendency of low birth weight babies becoming obese, we have shown that a dietary intervention during early life can have long lasting effects into childhood, adolescence and adult life,” researchers said in a statement.

In the US, small babies are defined as being in less than the 10th percentile by weight for a given gestation period. Other organizations define small as weighing less than 5 lb 5 oz. or 2.41 kg.

The study will be published in the June issue of Diabetes.

Before undertaking such a method, however, researchers advise consulting with a pediatrician as they acknowledge theirs is an early study.

The latest findings build on previous research also out of UCLA, which found that nutritionally deprived newborns are “programmed” to eat more because they develop fewer neurons in the region of the brain that controls food intake.

Meanwhile, a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that overweight and obese pregnant women are at increased risk of delivering pre-term babies.

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