In our work with young children, we have demonstrated that 4- and 5-year-olds ate better breakfasts through a Pre-School Breakfast Program than in their own homes. Moreover, they performed better on a battery of cognitive tasks when eating at our laboratory preschool as compared to eating breakfast at home. Expanding our research to children of low-incomes attending Head Start, we have shown that both middle-class preschoolers attending our lab school and Head Start preschoolers may be at-risk for overweight, but that Head Start children in particular, were heavier, were less active, and ingested more calories per day relative to our control children.
Since it appears that children as young as 4 years are already on the road toward overweight, we conducted a longitudinal project to identify the factors in infancy that may serve to predict excess weight gain in early development. To this end, our NIH-funded project has followed a cohort of infants from low-income, minority families. Infants and mothers were seen at 3-, 6-, 12-months, and we continued to follow these dyads at ages 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-years. As we previously established that formula-fed infants displayed less motor activity and irritability than breast-fed infants of the same age and weight, we are additionally trying to determine if a low activity–high irritability profile places the infant at increased risk for excess weight gain.
In other words, is infant weight gain exacerbated by low activity plus fussing that results in overfeeding? We observe formula feedings, measure infant motor activity, elicit the mothers' perceptions of temperamental activity and difficultness, and record nutrient intake. Our findings to date suggest that these low-income infants may already be showing a predisposition for becoming overweight, as 32% of Black and 47% of Hispanic infants are at or above the 85 th percentile for age and sex at 12-months. The impact of culture is also being assessed as Mexican mothers, relative to Latino and Black mothers, desire and seem to be rearing the heaviest infants.