Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fatter babies caused by estrogens in the air?

A recent Newsweek article opines that the chemicals in the air, namely the so called "phytoestrogens" may be causing today's babies to be more overweight than before.

They quote an impressive sounding statistic:

In 2006 scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health reported that the prevalence of obesity in infants under 6 months had risen 73 percent since 1980.

Pointing out that if more fast food and less exercise could explain the higher prevalence of adult obesity, it was more difficult to explain an increased incidence of obesity in a population (like babies) who don't attend movies, and don't eat fast food and were always "couch potatoes". Must be the chemicals in the air, concludes Newsweek...

I looked up the study - apparently the researcher, Matthew Gillman, MD, is also a pediatrician.

He never even mentioned chemicals in the air as a possible reason for fatter babies but rather concluded after studying "120,000 children younger than 6 years old at 14 Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates practices in eastern Massachusetts from 1980 through 2001" that solving the problem of increased baby weight might lie in:

"Avoiding smoking and excessive weight gain during pregnancy, preventing gestational diabetes, and promoting breastfeeding, all of which researchers have shown to be associated with reductions in childhood overweight."

(remember how a recent article blamed breastfeeding for _increased_ size in infants?)

While I understand that Newsweek must come up with eye catching stories almost on a daily basis which must be difficult, I think the public should realize that stories like this one are just that - eye catching - and not necessarily based on any good science.

One thing which struck me is the entire article is based on the "73 percent increase" in "infant obesity" however, is that really as impressive (or alarming) as it sounds? Probably not. For example, the study found that the incidence of overweight children had "jumped 59 percent" but then the actual numbers on overweight kids, were in 1980: 6.3 percent and in 2001: 10 percent. And this means that in 2001, 90 percent of the children were not overweight, even according to our inflated weight charts which have set the line for "overweight" to much less than it was in 1980.

Less than 3 percent more kids were found to be "overweight" in 2001, not exactly anywhere close to a significantly higher figure even with much more fast food and much less activity!

We should always be on the lookout for statistics which may sound alarming but in reality, are not.

Unfortunately I could not find the actual percentages of overweight babies but I suspect it's not that significantly higher either...

The Newsweek article goes on to cite a string of mouse and rat studies which seem to prove their "chemicals in the air = obesity" theory.

And all to the conclusion that we just might be innocent victims of weight gain, like the caged rats and mice (which also were very "under-exercised" and had a much greater exposure to food than their cousins in natural surroundings), and the fact that we burn 800 calories a day less than did our grandparents and that most of us are consuming high calorie fast foods several times a week, has nothing to do with our being somewhat larger than our grandparents. Nope, it's all the chemicals in the air!

(Forgetting of course, that the phyto-estrogens in the air have not particularly increased since the 1980's - on the contrary, with all the "green" hysteria, there are actually less pollutants like this in the air. I know, details, details... :)

While articles like this are entertaining reading (Americans love to be alarmed), we should not take them too seriously. All news media should carry a warning "for entertainment only - any resemblance to facts is purely coincidental"!


Crystal said...

My grandmas, and great-grandmas (the ones I knew) always said that fatter babies were healthy babies. (Most chubby babies lose their baby fat around the time they start walking, anyway.) I think I'll stick with my grandma's tried and true wisdom.

Eema-le said...

How can a baby be overweight? Infants who are exclusively breastfed cannot be over fed. It's impossible to do.