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Dale A. Ulrich and Janet L. Hauck

The purpose of this article is to discuss the growing problem of very early onset of obesity occurring before two years of age and to review infant motor development, physical activity, and effective pediatric disability motor interventions that may offer potential strategies to help reduce this growing problem earlier in life. Based on the review of physical activity interventions used with infants with a disability, we will propose strategies to consider to program early physical activity exposures into nondisabled young infants who are at risk for obesity. These proposed physical activity strategies will need to be combined with successful public health approaches to reducing early onset of obesity during infancy. Lucas (1991) conceived the term programming referring to permanent or extended effects of an environmental exposure occurring during a sensitive developmental period. In this paper, we propose that a very sensitive period for early onset of obesity is the first six months of postnatal life. If innovative strategies to increase the frequency of daily exposures to physical activity in young infants can be identified, these strategies could be combined with current public health approaches to preventing obesity in women before, during, and following pregnancy. Given the complexity of the obesity problem, no single strategy for prevention should be expected to be very successful.

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Janet L. Hauck, Isabella T. Felzer-Kim, and Kathryn L. Gwizdala

This longitudinal study investigated monthly motor development and physical activity (PA) of infants with and without Down syndrome. Gross and fine motor skills (Bayley Scales of Infant Development-III) and PA (accelerometer) were assessed in 35 infants at eight time points during infancy. A multivariate mixed model identified time points when motor scores diverged between the groups. In infants with Down syndrome, bivariate correlations between monthly PA and motor changes were calculated, and multivariate analysis of variance probed the influence of early PA on motor-skill timing. Results indicate that differences in gross and fine motor skills first emerge at 2 and 4 months, respectively. In infants with Down syndrome, gross motor and PA changes between 4 and 6 months were positively correlated. Infants more active than the mean at 2 or 3 months achieved several prone and sitting skills earlier. These results highlight the adaptability of early infancy and the importance of early intervention.