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  • The Roots of the Obesity ‘Epidemic’

    Filed at 1:24 am under by dcobranchi

    The other day, I was having lunch at a local diner, and I was seated near a family of four. There was a baby, I’m guessing he was about six months old, crying the entire time I was there. This doesn’t bother me—I’m good at drowning out noise—but the parents’ reaction to their child interested me. The father kept trying to take the baby out of his highchair. The mother kept saying “don’t do that, it will only encourage him.” Apparently wanting to be held or touched is a sign of misbehavior to this mother. Finally, after about ten minutes, the mother stuffed a bottle filled with juice into the baby’s mouth. The baby clearly didn’t want it, but the mother was insistent, and eventually the child took the juice. The father looked annoyed, but didn’t say anything.

    I recount this scene because it made me think about the ongoing furor over the obesity “epidemic.” Lawyers blame the fast food companies for enticing children. The government wants taxpayers to subsidize dieting. The schools are banning soft drinks and snacks. Yet none of these factors hold as much sway over a young child’s body than a parent’s decision to use food as a behavioral control. I’m not saying the baby in my diner situation will grow up to be obese, but there is a correlation between feeding habits in infancy and eating habits later in life. Giving a six-month old baby juice to “shut him up” is unhealthy on two levels: Juice contains empty calories with few nutrients, and giving a baby food when he’s clearly not hungry confuses his body’s metabolic process. Would anyone be surprised if this baby, in three or four years, turns to junk food whenever he gets upset about something?

    5 Responses to “The Roots of the Obesity ‘Epidemic’”

    Comment by
    Daryl Cobranchi
    July 28th, 2004
    at 5:55 am

    Good points, all. There is one small area, though, where society does contribute to childhood obesity– our aversion to nursing in public. It’s getting better, but many women are still harassed when they need to feed their babies in public. For the less strong-willed, placating a hungry baby with a bottle of formula or juice is the first step to weaning too early.

    There is a direct correlation between being bottle-fed and obesity.

    Comment by
    July 28th, 2004
    at 10:20 am

    I was just reading yesterday about one way that animal researchers use to make obese animals for the purpose of obesity research. They give them fairly high, repeated doses of MSG (monosodium glutamate, the food additive) as infants. The animals grow up to become vastly obese adults.

    I’m not paranoid about MSG and the question is still open about whether its use in food is a good idea. So many foods–even baby foods until quite recently–contain MSG, that IF the obesity-promoting mechanism carries over into humans, it may go a certain distance toward explaining why more and more people are diet-resistant obese.

    Certainly solicitous overfeeding of babies is not a new problem.

    Comment by
    July 28th, 2004
    at 1:52 pm


    I didn’t breastfeed (my child declined) but I did make a lot of her baby food. The pediatrician told me how, and that it was a good thing because I could control how much sugar, salt, etc. that she got. MSG in baby food never occurred to me. (At 5’4″ or so, and 105 pounds, my kid does not appear to have obesity in her future.)

    Comment by
    July 28th, 2004
    at 4:11 pm

    I breastfed both my boys until they were two. I wanted to nurse them a bit longer, but was getting comments from family members and other well-informed people. My boys are not over-weight and only want to eat when they’re hungry.

    Here’s an interesting story about subsidized corn sweeteners.

    Comment by
    July 29th, 2004
    at 4:06 pm

    There is a direct correlation between being bottle-fed and obesity.

    Just a reminder: Correlation does not mean causation…

    I am glad that you put “epidemic” in quotes… I’m of the opinion that it’s more of a media invention than anything else…