Infant Obesity Study

As the prevalence of obesity in children increases, prevention of this epidemic must occur, with interventions aimed at very young children, even infants, who are deemed high-risk.

Research being conducted at Lurie Children's and Northwestern Memorial Hospital may be able to identify infants at high risk of developing childhood-onset obesity by measuring a newborn baby’s body fat within the first 48 hours after birth. The medical device used is called the Pea Pod® Infant Body Composition System. Located at Northwestern Memorial’s Prentice Women’s Hospital​, the device provides a fast, noninvasive mechanism for measuring newborn body fat.

The Device

Within 48 hours after birth, the baby is weighed, measured and then slid comfortably into the Pea Pod®, a pressure-controlled device the size of a crib. The device uses a technique to analyze the infant’s body composition, specifically, the density of fat and lean tissue. 

Within minutes of being placed in the small machine, researchers are given the percentage of the baby’s fatty tissue — or adiposity— thought to be an early life factor that increases the risk of childhood-onset obesity.

Research Parameters

Previous research has studied birth weight and its relationship to the risk of obesity, and that babies at either extreme – low birth weight or high birth weight – are at risk for obesity later in life. Most children who are obese, however, had a normal birth weight.

The technological advance of the Pea Pod device makes it possible to study neonatal body fat as a risk factor for childhood obesity.

Additionally, in order to identify a pattern reflective of altered maternal metabolism in obese women, the study examines:

  • Metabolic biomarkers, including glucose
  • The appetite regulator hormone leptin
  • The adiposity marker adiponectin

Other factors, such as pregnancy weight gain and gestational age of the newborn, also are being evaluated to determine the relative contribution of each factor to newborn body fat percentage.

Recruitment

The study currently is recruiting pregnant women, both healthy weight (pre-pregnancy BMI 18 to 25 kg/m2) and obese (pre-pregnancy BMI > 30 kg/m2). Women must have had a normal glucose challenge test. Diabetic women are excluded because gestational diabetes is known to be associated with increased risk of offspring obesity. 

The recruitment goal is 80 mother-infant pairs, half from each maternal weight category.

Planning Ahead

This research study will characterize the length/weight and metabolic status of offspring of obese mothers. Research that focuses on the long-term effects of the perinatal environment on the developing fetus, termed metabolic programming, may provide further understanding of the obese intrauterine environment and its relative contribution to offspring obesity. The current study will provide the preliminary data and the foundation for a larger cohort study to determine if adiposity and/or other biomarkers at birth predict adiposity in childhood.

If adiposity at birth identifies infants at risk of developing obesity, interventions initiated from birth forward may prevent or reduce this risk. Ultimately, developing cost-effective interventions to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity is necessary to curtail this epidemic.

The research study, Is Maternal Weight Associated with Newborn Body Composition?, is being conducted by Jami Josefson, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at Lurie Children's and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.