A new study conducted by Penn State shows that mothers who practice responsive parenting are far less likely to have babies that are overweight by their one year checkup. Responsive parents pay close attention to both hunger and fullness cues, helping their children learn how to start a healthy lifestyle pattern before they even know how to talk.
It is important for parents to realize that their children are going to triple their weight by the time of their first birthday. However, rapid weight gain is associated with obesity later on in life so parents should keep in close contact with their doctor if they notice their child gaining quicker than the other children. Over 20 percent of 2 to 5 year olds in the United States are already overweight, and this is why interventions are required early on in a baby’s life.
The newest study recruited 279 first-time mothers and their infants. Half were assigned to a responsive parenting intervention and the other half were part of a control group that was given general child safety information. Participants were followed up with at regular intervals and the complete results were published in JAMA Pediatrics journal.
The mothers in the intervention group were trained on responsive parenting by nurses, focusing on feeding, sleep, emotional regulation and interactive play. Penn State assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences, Savage, says feeding a baby can be an easy and fast way to calm them down then they are upset, however, we do not want parents to use food as a way to regularly soothe their baby when a baby is not hungry. It is important to get to know each individual child’s temperament and establish regular routines early on in a child’s life. This allows baby’s to find their own self-regulation. When children learn these skills early on, they are able to understand the cues offered by their bodies as far as when they are full and when they are hungry.
At the age of a year, about 12.7 percent of infants within the control group were considered to be overweight. 5.5 percent of the infants within the responsive parenting intervention were overweight. Savage says so far there aren’t any interventions that have worked across the board, or lasted that have been shown to get rid of the United States extreme obesity. The study is very promising because it shows that there are interventions that may be able to make a big difference.
Both groups were given materials that corresponded to their assigned intervention two weeks after the birth of their children. Mothers were visited at home four times throughout the year following the birth of their children and then were asked to go to a research center when their child’s first birthday came. Savage hopes that by teaching responsive parenting principles at an early stage in children’s lives, the effects will be sustained throughout the lives of the children.
Researchers plan on taking part in future studies in order to see if the effects of the interventions extend later on into the lives of the children involved. There are no plans set in stone to begin working with larger groups of children.