How Hispanic culture is contributing to infant obesity

The war on childhood obesity may come to a screeching halt if dietary experts don’t take into consideration a person’s culture. According to a study…

Hispanic culture may be contributing to obesity in infants. (Shutterstock)

The war on childhood obesity may come to a screeching halt if dietary experts don’t take into consideration a person’s culture. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, Hispanic culture–not just poor nutrition choices–may have a negative impact on healthy weight throughout infancy.

The research, headed up by Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, surveyed a group of Hispanic, African-American and non-Hispanic white mothers regarding their habits around infant meal time as well as the physical activity habits of the 2-month-old babies in the study.

What the experts found was that, while no ethnic group was completely free of obesity-contributing habits, Hispanics fared worse when it came to multiple areas being examined, including encouragement to overeat, a lack of “tummy time,” and introduction to solid foods. Hispanics mothers did, however, have the best numbers when it came to time spent watching television and breastfeeding.

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“Most pediatricians don’t talk about television until a baby is at least 12 to 15 months old. Think this study tells us we need to talk about television early on in a baby’s life,” Perrin told Reuters. “The message should be ‘talk with your babies, play with your babies, allow your babies to begin to prop themselves up in a safe space, try not to have them watch television and try to notice when you’re feeding them whether they’re hungry or full.”

Among the Hispanic-specific findings, researchers noted:

  • Hispanic infants watched an average of 11 minutes of television a day, compared to non-Hispanic white children at an average of 24 minutes and African-American children at an average of 51 minutes.
  • Less than 4 percent of Hispanic parents had introduced their infants to solid foods by 2 months, compared to 16 percent of white mothers and nearly 25 percent of African-American mothers.
  • Hispanic parents were about twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to encourage children to finish the contents of the bottle and to prop the bottle up to maximize the amount fed.

    Over feeding infants is a problem.

    Parents should hold the bottle for their infant rather than propping it up. (Shutterstock)

  • 4 out of 5 Hispanic mothers did not put their infants down for the recommended amount of “tummy time,” the amount of time infants need to spend on their bellies to promote proper development.
  • Hispanic mothers breastfed at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the research.

Findings inclusive of all ethnicities showed that:

  • Approximately two-thirds of all parents did not adhere to “tummy time” recommendations.
  • 45 percent of all mothers fed formula exclusively, compared to 19 percent who breastfed exclusively.
  • 43 percent of parents put children to bed with a bottle.
  • Only 12 percent of parents had introduced solid food, usually in cereal form, by 2 months.
  • 23 percent of parents propped bottles instead of holding them, a practice associated with overeating.
  • 20 percent of parents always fed an infant who cried.
  • 38 percent of parents encouraged children to finish bottles, a practice that can prevent children from learning how to recognize when they are full.
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    “Rather than focus on the ethnic and racial differences, these results show us that we can all do better and begin our efforts to prevent obesity earlier in life,” said Perrin. “I’m hoping this study is a wake-up call that families of all races and ethnicities need early counseling to lead healthier lives.”

    Perrin indicated counseling for parents should take into consideration cultural habits; childhood obesity is far more complex than teaching older children how to make healthy choices.