There’s nothing cuter than a chubby baby. But for some parents, their child’s pudgy cheeks, tubby tummy and roly-poly thunder thighs are cause for concern — so much so that they’re putting their wee ones on extreme diets, according to ABC’s Good Morning America.
One in 10 U.S. children under the age of 2 is overweight, an alarming statistic that has doubled over the past two decades. But while childhood obesity is unquestionably a public-health concern, it seems that in many cases parents’ worry is rooted in their own personal struggles with obesity, not with their child’s. “I have seen parents putting their infant and 1-year-old on diets because of history in one parent or another,” Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, chair of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told ABC. (More on Time.com: Study: Fast-Food Ads Target Kids with Unhealthy Food, and It Works)
In an especially egregious case earlier this year, a couple in Washington State was found guilty of starving their baby by putting laxatives in her bottle to keep her from gaining weight.
Certainly, parents should take responsibility for their children’s body weight and good health, but the fact that parents are putting babies on diets is a frightening reflection of America’s obsession with being thin. What’s next, infant-sized treadmills or, as a recent Saturday Night Live skit joked, Baby Spanx? (More on Time.com: Stress in America: Overweight Children Are Affected More)
When parents project their own weight-related anxieties and insecurities onto their children, especially at very young ages, it can take a detrimental toll on kids’ later eating behaviors and self-esteem. Already, more children are suffering from eating disorders at earlier ages: a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics warned [PDF] that the rate of hospitalizations due to eating disorders has risen significantly in young girls and boys — 119% between 1999 and 2006 in children younger than 12.
Of course, there is an upside to being concerned. A health-conscious parent is crucial to helping children learn good eating habits, which start at birth. Dr. Bhatia told ABC, “We need to stop the notion that fat, cuddly, cute babies are a good thing.” But a baby diet is not the answer, he added, recommending that new mothers breast-feed (some data suggest that breast-fed babies have a lower risk of later obesity than formula-fed infants) and closely monitor their baby’s weight with the help of a pediatrician. Because, as the SNL skit jokes, “Everyone loves babies, but sometimes there’s just too much to love.” (More on Time.com: Sometimes a 90% Fat Diet Is Good For You)