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Chubby newborns may signal future weight risk

Baby fat may no longer be the picture of health for infants born to obese mothers, according to researchers who say the newborns may face the risk of getting heavier as they grow up.

The number of babies in the study born in the 90th percentile for their weight, height and gestational age increased 45 percent from 1990 to 2005, according to research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. The proportion of newborns in that category rose to 16 percent in 2005 from 11 percent in 1990.

The number of obese children in the United States has tripled since 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Chubby babies may not necessarily be healthy babies in that they may have the risk factor for obesity that may [lie] dormant for a while, only to raise its head in adulthood," said Felix Okah, lead author of the study and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine in Kansas City, Mo.

Newborns "are starting out with more body fat," Okah said. "We're looking at future potential problems with babies with more body fat transforming into children and adults with more body fat and therefore with the potential to become obese."

Okah, who is also director of the neonatal-perinatal medicine fellowship program at Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas City, looked at data from the Kansas City health department on 74,053 infants born full-term from 1990 to 2005. Working with other researchers, he divided the babies into three time periods based on when they were born: 1990 to 1994, 1995 to 1999 and 2000 to 2005.

Overall, the body fat of newborns rose less than 1 percent for white babies and 4 percent for black babies from 1990 to 2005, the study showed.