A recent "Saturday Night Live" episode featured a parody ad for a product called Baby Spanx, with a pair of neurotic parents squeezing their adorably chubby infant into a slenderizing undergarment. The joke, apparently, is not that far from the truth: Pediatricians across the country report that they're seeing concerned parents putting their tots on diets even before they reach their first birthday. Here, a brief guide to the alleged trend:
What exactly has been reported?
According to ABC's "Good Morning America," parents who've struggled with their own diet issues are fretting over their children's weight long before the kids are out of diapers. "I have seen parents putting their infant and 1-year-old on diets," says Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, a Georgia physician who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics' nutrition committee. And, Dr. Blair Hammond, a pediatrician in New York City, says "some parents... are very pleased when their children are thin."
Is this really a common practice?
So far, the evidence is mostly anecdotal. At the mommy blog Mom Logic, Jessica Katz says that she was shocked to learn that a mother in her play group had put her 7-month-old son on a diet. Katz says she has since concluded that the practice is "fairly common": "People get caught up in a baby's growth percentile and are disappointed when they have bigger babies."
Is excessive infant chubbiness a documented issue?
In the United States, one in 10 children under the age of 2 is now obese — "an alarming statistic that has doubled over the past two decades," says Kayla Webler at Time. At the same time, eating disorders have also risen sharply among children under 12. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the rate of hospitalization for eating disorders among pre-teens more than doubled between 1999 and 2006.
How dangerous can baby diets be?
Earlier this year, a young couple in Washington state took the weight-watching to extremes. Brittainy and Samuel Labberton were accused of starving their baby daughter, and Child Protective Services found traces of laxatives in the infant's bottle. Brittainy allegedly said, "My husband has a weight problem and we didn't want our daughters to be fat." The couple's children are currently in foster care as their parents undergo counseling and attend parenting classes.
What should parents do to raise healthy babies without obsessing over their weight?
Dr. Bhatia recommends breast-feeding: "Breast-fed babies tend to gain weight faster early on and then slow down in the next six months," he says, while babies reared on formula tend to keep gaining weight and are often overfed by their parents, some of whom then grow alarmed. "We need to stop the notion that fat, cuddly, cute babies are a good thing," he says. Mom Logic's Jessica Katz says baby diets aren't the answer, but therapy for the obsessive parents can be.