Babies, Cereal, and Childhood Obesity


It has been a bad year for infant cereal. On the last day of 2010, Eryn Brown of the Los Angeles Times reported that a good time to start worrying about a baby’s obesity potential is about nine months. And then, on February 14, Childhood Obesity News gave infant cereal the old heave-ho. We quoted Dr. Alan Greene, who said,

I have been studying nutrition very carefully for more than a decade now and one of the things that I have become convinced of is that white rice cereal can predispose to childhood obesity. In fact I think it is the tap root of the child obesity epidemic.

Actually, by the time nine months rolls around (sometimes all too literally), it may be too late to start worrying. Precautions against childhood obesity ought to begin with pregnancy. No, with conception. Before conception, actually. And once the kid is born, eating habits might be as easy to pick up and as hard to get rid of as language patterns. Until we find out what causes people to be addiction-prone, and concentrate attention on that, we are doomed to an endless round of speculation about what is probably a secondary element of addiction, the substances.

Meanwhile, everybody is saying, “Is it this? Is it that?” We have also looked at (among other substances) milk, vitamin D, and chocolate-covered bacon.

What is the relationship between overweight kids and smooth, creamy cereal? We are glad you asked. Like certain kinds of formula, the cereal eaten by infants seems to correlate with childhood obesity, and further research into that coincidence might make a vital difference. Because, after all, everyone is interested in knowing what works.

Polly Palumbo has noted that cereal is the one food that researchers seem to ask about most when studying childhood obesity, and consequently they miss out on a lot of knowledge about what kids eat. Palumbo says,

Almost none bothered asking about food, unless it’s infant oatmeal, like the recent study showing the introduction of cereal before 4 months raises the obesity risk only for formula-fed babies.

Tom Henderson of ParentDish sums up what he has learned when studying up on childhood obesity:

You should follow prevailing wisdom and keep babies off solid foods for their first four months. It may also be a good idea to make sure they get enough sleep. Meanwhile, stay off the booze and don’t work too late… Study after study after study these days tell us why children are turning into Jabba the Hutts. How many studies can there be? When will this mania end? Not today.

And when infancy is past, what then? There has also been a pleasant research-related surprise in this area. Yale University’s Jennifer L. Harris, Ph.D., along with colleagues, discovered that children actually will eat breakfast cereals that are not all pumped up with sugar. This is especially true if the cereal is accompanied by fresh fruit, or maybe just a little sprinkle of table sugar. But, as the team pointed out to reporter Nancy Walsh,

Limitations of the study included the fact that sugar consumption was measured only on one day and in one meal, so the results may not be generalizable to longer periods. In addition, the participants were mostly black and Hispanic children from disadvantaged families, so the results may also not be generalizable to children of different backgrounds and ethnicities.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood obesity can begin as early as 9 months of age, researchers find,” LA Times, 12/31/10
Source: “Does This Formula Make Me Look Fat? Breast-Feeding and Childhood Obesity,” ParentDish, 02/24/11
Source: “What Makes Kids Fat? Here’s the Latest Answer,” ParentDish, 02/08/11
Source: “Kids Will Eat Low-Sugar Cereals,” MedPage Today, 12/13/10
Image by TheNickster (Nicki Dugan), used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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