In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or had obesity. Now, new research suggests parents may need to shoulder some of the blame. A study found that many parents adopt infant feeding and activity practices that may increase a child’s risk of obesity later in life.

The research team, led by Dr. Eliana M. Perrin of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, recently published their findings in the journal Pediatrics.

For their study, the researchers analyzed 863 low-income parents and their infants who were a part of an obesity prevention trial called Greenlight.

Results of the study revealed that all parents adopted some infant feeding and activity behaviors that have been linked to the development of obesity later in life.

On assessing feeding behaviors, the researchers found that 45% of parents exclusively formula fed their infants, while only 19% exclusively breastfed.

Solid food had been introduced to infants early by 12% of parents – a feeding behavior that has been linked to obesity in the past. In 2011, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that babies who are fed solid foods before 4 months of age are more likely to have obesity by the age of 3 years.

Infants were put to bed with their bottles by 43% of parents, while 23% of parents propped bottles up instead of holding them by hand – a process that can lead to excessive feeding.

Around 20% of parents fed their infants when they cried, while 38% always tried to get their babies to finish their milk.

When it came to other activities linked to obesity, the researchers found that 90% of infants were exposed to television, and 50% actively watched TV – meaning parents intentionally put their children in front of the television so they could watch it.

Watching television is a factor that past research has associated with childhood obesity. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that children who have televisions in their bedroom are at higher risk of weight gain.

Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term impacts on health.

Research has shown that children and adolescents with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. This means they are at higher risk of obesity-related health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and even some types of cancer.

And it is not only health that can be affected by obesity. We recently reported on a study revealing that teenage girls with obesity may have lower academic performance, compared with those of a healthy weight.

Dr. Perrin says the team’s findings show that parents need to do more to reduce “obesogenic” behaviors and ensure their child does not develop obesity later in life.

She adds:

These results from a large population of infants – especially the high rates of television watching – teach us that we must begin obesity prevention even earlier.”

She believes that families could benefit from early “culturally-tailored” counseling on how to lead healthier lives. “We are hoping our research sheds light on the best ways to do that,” she concludes.