Latina Mom and Baby Health Research: Infant Habits


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This is part of our Latina Mom and Baby Health: A Research Review »

The importance of healthy habits for babies

As we have discussed, a mother’s physical activity level during pregnancy and early infant breastfeeding practices both play an important role in limiting the risk of childhood obesity among Latino youths.

Within the first year of life, infants experiencing rapid weight gain are more likely to become overweight in later years.156–159

As such, it is critical that parents continue to promote healthy eating habits and physical activity for their children during infancy and early childhood in order to encourage a healthy weight for life.

This is particularly important for Latino families, as there is a higher rate of obesity among Latino preschoolers in the United States compared with non-Latino white youths.1,160

Latino parents and problematic infant feeding habits

In 2014, a randomized obesity prevention trial investigated racial and ethnic trends in infant feeding and activity behaviors among parents of 2-month-old infants.161 The trial enrolled 863 parents (50% Latino) and reported the prevalence of behaviors thought to relate to later obesity.

Importantly, study investigators found that potentially obesogenic feeding behaviors were already prevalent at this early age, such as exclusive formula feeding in 45 percent of the total study population and early introduction of solid food in 12 percent.

In addition, practices such as bottle propping (enabling babies to drink from a bottle without the assistance of a parent or caretaker) (23%), putting infants to bed with bottles (43%), always feeding when the infant cried (20%), and always encouraging infants to finish their milk (38%) were also prevalent.

When considering racial and ethnic differences, Latino parents were more likely than non-Latino whites to encourage infants to finish feeding or engage in bottle propping behavior.161

Latino parents and problematic infant activity habits

In terms of physical activity and sedentary practices, behaviors linked to obesity were also highly prevalent at this early age.16

The same 2014 study evaluated markers of physical activity including infant tummy time, television exposure, and active television watching, in accordance with AAP recommendations.

Television watching is discouraged in all children younger than 2;162 and at least 30 minutes of tummy time, which helps infants strengthen their muscles, is recommended per day.163

According to the study investigators, parental adherence to these recommendations was low.161

Nearly 50 percent of all parents reported active television watching among their infants, with over 90 percent reporting that infants had exposure to television throughout the day.161

For Latinos, 41 percent of infants took part in active television watching for more than 25 minutes per day, with a mean daily television exposure time of 228 minutes (or 3.8 hours).

In addition to sedentary screen time, only 34 percent of all parents reported providing their infants with the recommended physical activity of ≥30 minutes of tummy time per day. Tummy time was lowest among Latino infants (22%) compared with non-Latino black or non-Latino white infants (45% and 46%, respectively).161

These findings indicate that by the age of 2 months, behaviors discouraging physical activity and promoting sedentary behavior and unhealthy eating are already prevalent among Latino infants and their parents.161

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References for this section »

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154. Nelson JM, Li R, Perrine CG. Trends of US Hospitals Distributing Infant Formula Packs to Breastfeeding Mothers, 2007 to 2013. Pediatrics. 2015;135(6):1051-1056. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-0093.

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156. Baird J, Fisher D, Lucas P, Kleijnen J, Roberts H, Law C. Being big or growing fast: systematic review of size and growth in infancy and later obesity. BMJ. 2005;331(7522):929. doi:10.1136/bmj.38586.411273.E0.

157. Taveras EM, Rifas-Shiman SL, Belfort MB, Kleinman KP, Oken E, Gillman MW. Weight status in the first 6 months of life and obesity at 3 years of age. Pediatrics. 2009;123(4):1177-1183. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-1149.

158. Taveras EM, Rifas-Shiman SL, Sherry B, et al. Crossing growth percentiles in infancy and risk of obesity in childhood. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(11):993-998. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.167.

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161. Perrin EM, Rothman RL, Sanders LM, et al. Racial and ethnic differences associated with feeding- and activity-related behaviors in infants. Pediatrics. 2014;133(4):e857-e867. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-1326.

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