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Well-meaning parents may be harming their infants by putting them on restrictive diets meant for adults, warns a Utah dietitian.

Parents' own fears of obesity, junk food addiction and cholesterol, when taken to extremes, can impede the normal growth of infants, said Noreen Schvaneveldt, a dietitian in the Utah State University College of Family Life.She said health-conscious parents, especially those who have had a history of weight problems, tend to worry about weight problems in their children. They often base this on the prevalent belief that fat babies grow up to be fat adults.

Schvaneveldt said this belief is based on the old "fat cell theory" that stated that the number and kind of fat cells you have as an adult are determined by your weight as an infant. Although this theory has been discounted, many parents still believe it and take it to unhealthy extremes, she said.

The dietitian said one common problem is parents wanting to put infants on low-fat dairy products because of fear of added calories and cholesterol. This, she said, is especially dangerous because infants need cholesterol for proper nervous system development. They also need calories. Infants generally triple their birth weight in the first year.

Schvaneveldt said severe restriction of calories will impede babies' growth. Feeding infants skim milk instead of whole milk may also cause deficiencies in essential fatty acids.

She suggested that parents monitor the weight and height of their infants to make sure they are growing at a rate within normal ranges for infants of their age and sex. This information can be obtained from a pediatrician or dietitian.

If parents' concerns are based on a family history of health problems such as hypertension, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, special dietary changes still shouldn't be made until children reach age 2, Schvaneveldt said. At that time, parents should consult a physician.