What’s a Parent to Do? (Part 4)

Feeding the babies

Dr. Brian Saelens of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute is also a University of Washington pediatrics professor, and according to the study made by him and a large number of co-authors, geography is destiny. They studied kids in Seattle and San Diego, and last year a theme issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed the secrets unlocked by this research.

It seems that there exists such a thing as an “obesogenic neighborhood environment,” and it’s not good. ScienceDaily explained:

Nutrition environments were defined based on supermarket availability and concentration of fast food restaurants. Physical activity environments were defined based on environmental factors related to neighborhood walkability and at least one park with more or better amenities for children. Kids that lived in neighborhoods that were poorer in physical activity and nutrition environment had the highest rates of obesity — almost 16 percent…

In the neighborhoods where the physical activity environment and the nutrition environment were considered positive, however, the childhood obesity rate was only 8%, or half what it was in the obesogenic neighborhoods. What’s a parent to do? Move to a better neighborhood, where it’s safe to walk around, and there is a good park, and a store where it’s as easy to buy wheatgrass juice as soda pop. If only all parents were in a position to make that decision, what a wonderful world this would be!

What’s a parent to do, who can’t afford to move to a better neighborhood? Because an awful lot of parents, especially single mothers, and especially those who haven’t graduated from high school, are pretty much stuck in their locations.

At the very least, the mother of a newborn needs to avoid the temptation to use the television as a babysitter, or even as self-entertainment, when interacting with her child at feeding time. Who says? Nutrition professor Margaret E. Bentley and biological anthropologist Amanda L. Thompson of University of Chapel Hill in South Carolina, where they are engaged in a five-year study of obesity risk in infants. The subjects are 217 mother/child pairs, and reporter Thania Benios says:

The researchers followed the mothers and babies in their homes at 3, 6, 9 12 and 18 months of age, looking at TV exposure, sociodemographic and infant temperament data. They asked how often the TV was on, if a TV was in the baby’s bedroom, and whether the TV was on during meal times… The researchers found that mothers who were obese, who watched a lot of TV and whose child was fussy were most likely to put their infants in front of the TV.

It’s a counterproductive practice for many reasons. One of the problems cited by the research team is that the mother absorbed in TV is less likely to recognize cues from the child. Such messages as “I’m full” can be overlooked, and a baby can keep on drinking formula simply because it’s there, and to continue is the path of least resistance.

In a larger sense, to bring in television as the third party present at feeding time can cheat both mother and baby in ways that will resonate for years. Feeding time is when maternal attention focused on the child can really pay off. Deviating from that path can lead to visits, later on, with not only an obesity expert but a psychologist.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Zip code as important as genetic code in childhood obesity,” ScienceDaily, 04/10/12
Source: “Obese moms more likely to use TV to entertain and soothe fussy infants,” EurekAlert.org, 01/08/13
Image by Lars Plougmann.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

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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