Junkfood Science: A baby "paradox"

April 19, 2007

A baby "paradox"

Ever wonder why we only hear that fat is bad? The certainty with which everything in the news seems to confirm this popular belief, while contradictory evidence is ignored, misinterpreted or downplayed, is an example of confirmation bias. Society’s purported professional observers, news reporters, have become experts in observational selection: counting the hits and ignoring the misses.

So it’s not surprising that they ignored this notable study. After all, fat babies can’t possibly be good.

An enormous study on every child born in Denmark since 1977 through 2004 was published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The researchers from the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen had gathered the reported birth weights, gestational ages and potential confounding factors for 1.7 million children and examined them against hospitalizations for infectious diseases from birth through childhood. Healthcare is publicly-funded in Denmark, reducing population variabilities in prenatal and pediatric care and record-keeping.

The results were incontrovertible. The heavier the children were at birth, the lower their risks for serious infectious diseases resulting in hospitalization. Birth weights were inversely related to hospitalizations and the effect persisted through the age of ten. The results were also present among those born at term and were independent of prematurity.

The risks for hospitalization increased 9% for every 500 grams reduction in birth weight. Depressed immune function in intrauterine growth-restricted babies has been well demonstrated in the medical literature, according to the researchers, which make these findings consistent. [Discussed in a previous post.] What has been underrecognized, they said, is that these benefits of a healthy start seen during infancy can continue through childhood. The importance of this study is not just for our efforts to better the health and well being of children, but also in reducing years of hospital and healthcare expenses.

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