Obesity prevalence among infants and young children has increased rapidly during the past 4 decades, a disturbing trend given early obesity’s association with later life obesity and its comorbidities. Fortunately, infancy is a period of great behavioral and metabolic plasticity offering numerous targets for preventive interventions. Modifiable factors that may affect early rapid weight gain and obesity risk include infant sleep duration, feeding to soothe infant distress, and the introduction of solid foods and transitional feeding. We discuss evidence linking these factors to weight outcomes, as well as results from behavioral obesity interventions in infancy, from our laboratory and others’. For example, in a recent pilot intervention, we focused on helping new mothers address three areas of infant behavior hypothesized to affect weight gain and early obesity risk: infant sleeping, crying, and feeding. First-time mothers were randomly assigned to receive either a Soothe/Sleep intervention, an Introduction of Solids intervention, both interventions, or no interventions. The interventions were delivered via home visits and showed positive effects on infant behaviors and weight outcomes at 1 year. Based on evidence from such pilot interventions, we assess the plausibility of targeting behavioral factors in infancy and suggest next steps for early prevention research.
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