Parents have been given wrong advice on the best weight for infants, a new study shows. A chubby baby has been seen for years as the epitome of good health, but new research on the way children grow is set to overturn the belief that big is beautiful. A six years study by the World Health Organisation, iabout how more than 8,000 children across different continents put on weight in their first years, has revealed that those given the best start in life by being breastfed and having non-smoking mothers ended up being significantly lighter than the optimum weights.
Child growth charts are now based largely on studies that mostly looked at babies fed on formula milk. The new work suggests that for years experts across the world have been significantly overestimating how many pounds babies should weigh. This means many toddlers thought to be healthy could actually be overweight or even obese, and breastfeeding mothers who are told their babies are underweight may find that the infants are actually healthy.
The research studied babies across America, Norway, Ghana, India, Oman and Brazil in their growing up years; measuring their height, weight and milestones in their progress such as crawling and walking. All were breastfed for six months by middle-class mothers who did not smoke.
The study showed that despite the differences in nationality and genetic background, the babies gained weight at a remarkably similar rate. But significantly, they ended up lighter at one, two and three years of age than if they had been formula-fed. The rate of weight gain in childhood is a key determinant of whether teenagers and adults develop obesity, heart disease and diabetes later in life.
The result of the study calls for a rewriting of the international growth charts on which advice to parents is based. Once the new data is taken into account, mothers who are told that their children are slightly underweight may actually discover that their child’s weight is perfect for their age. It could mean that the current references are out by 6-7%. For instance, a one-year-old girl who weighs 10 kilos (22lbs) and is considered the perfect weight for her height should probably be around 600 grams lighter.