UNC-CHAPEL HILL (US)—Everybody loves a chubby baby, but those little rolls of fat may actually slow an infant’s ability to crawl and walk.
A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics finds that infants who are overweight may be slower to develop motor skills than thinner babies.
“This is concerning because children with motor skill delays may be less physically active and thus less likely to explore the environment beyond arm’s reach,” says Meghan Slining, a nutrition doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and lead author of the study.
Findings are based on observations of 217 African-American first-time mothers who participated in the Infant Care, Feeding and Risk of Obesity Study, a UNC research project funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The project is examining—in a population at risk of obesity—how parenting and infant feeding styles relate to infant diet and the risk of babies becoming overweight. The mothers ranged in age from 18 to 35 and their babies were 3 months old.
Researchers visited the mothers and infants in their homes between 2003 and 2007. They weighed and measured the children at each visit, and also assessed their motor skills at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 18 months.
Overweight infants were about twice as likely (1.8 times) as non-overweight infants to have a low score on the Psychomotor Development Index test, reflecting delayed motor development.
Infants with high subcutaneous fat (rolls of fat under their skin) were more than twice as likely (2.32 times) as babies without fat rolls to have a low score.
“There are a number of studies that show that weight status during the infancy and toddler years can set young children on an obesity trajectory that may be hard to change,” Slining says. “Our study shows that there are actually immediate consequences as well.”
Researchers from the University of San Carolos, Cebu City, Philippines contributed to the study, which was funded the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Mead Johnson Children’s Nutrition Small Research Grants Program at UNC.
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