While plump and cherubic babies are considered the model of good health, medical experts are beginning to wonder if they may be harbingers of a bigger problem: childhood obesity. Why? Because chubby babies can grow up to be obese teens, predisposing them to a host of chronic health conditions that include Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. With heading off this downward spiral in mind, some doctors have identified a “tipping point” in a baby’s development when they begin to develop healthy, or unhealthy, eating habits.

The findings, published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, determined that a critical time in an infant's dietary development occurs around two years, though it can be as early as three months. It is during these important moments that some pediatricians feel obesity prevention should begin, before the so-called tipping point, as opposed to waiting for health problems to arise and then treating them after the fact.

In the study in question, doctors examined the records of 111 children whose body mass index (BMI) was greater than 85% of the general population. It was determined that these children began their weight gain during infancy (around 3 months) and proceeded to grow at an average rate of 0.08 excess BMI units per month. Greater than half of these babies went on to become overweight around 2 years and 90% of them were overweight by their 5th birthday.

The authors suggest obesity prevention should begin earlier than currently recommended, even before two years of age. This recommendation is largely rooted in the fact that the earlier healthy eating habits are startedthe easier they are to establish and maintain.

This connection is of particular significant in light of the current epidemic of childhood obesity. While hospitals are offering an increasing number of programs to encourage healthy eating and weight loss for children, obesity remains one of the biggest problems in this country. The current research might lend some insight into the timing of such intervention.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years, despite efforts by government officials and schools to encourage wholesome eating habits. In 2008, the prevalence of obesity in children between the ages of 6 and 11 rose to almost 20%. Over 18% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 are considered obese.

Obesity can lead to a myriad of health problems, both in the short and long term. Chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, and diabetes are linked to obesity. In certain instances, obesity can result in emotional trauma and depression, much of which stems from poor self-esteem and peer stigmatization. And finally, obese youths are more likely to grow up to become obese adults.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat and prevent the onset of obesity, many of which are simple and easily attainable. In most cases, it boils down to a sensible diet and exercise. Feed your children more fruits and vegetables, and cut down on fats and sugars. And make your kids turn off that computer or TV and get outside and play. Excessive screen time is often implicated in exacerbating the weight problems of children.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your pediatrician. For more information about obesity, visit the website for the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH).