There are fussy babies, chill babies, and everything inbetween. but a new study has found that babies that act certain ways are at higher risk of obesity as an adult.
To be fair, the culture of eating we’re surrounded by puts us all at risk of putting on the pounds, but research by The University of Buffalo has found that babies that exhibit more “cuddliness” and calm down easy are less likely to develop obesity as adults. Children that get upset easily and take a while to calm down are at higher risk. In my limited experience most babies get pretty upset easily.
The goal of the research was to discover root causes of obesity and intervene as early as possible.
In the study, 105 infants from nine to 18 months old were taught to press a button to earn a reward (food, ). As the task went on, it became increasingly difficult for the infant to earn the reward as they had to press the button more times.
“We found that infants that rated higher on what we call cuddliness — the baby’s expression of enjoyment and molding of the body to being held — had lower food reinforcement,” explained Kai Ling Kong, PhD, first author and assistant professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “That means they were willing to work more for a non-food reward versus a food reward. So an infant who enjoyed being held closely by a caregiver was less motivated to work for food.”
Using rewards other than food, such as a trip to the playground or engaging in active play with their parents, may help reduce the child’s tendency to find pleasure in food
The researchers measured cuddliness by asking parents specific questions such as, “When being held, how often did your baby pull away or kick?” and “While being fed on your lap, how often did your baby snuggle even after they were done?”
“If a parent sees high relative food reinforcement in their child, it is not cause for immediate concern,” she said. Instead, she noted, the parent could evaluate their child’s relationship to food, encouraging the child to engage in activities other than eating, especially as a reward.
“Using rewards other than food, such as a trip to the playground or engaging in active play with their parents, may help reduce the child’s tendency to find pleasure in food,” she said. Making available a wide array of toys, activities and playmates so food isn’t the main focus and sole source of pleasure also can be beneficial.
Kong added that children can learn healthier lifestyles when parents model healthy behaviors themselves, pay close attention to children’s satiety cues (noting when they are full) and don’t immediately use food to comfort a child who is crying or fussing.