Parents may be feeding their babies and toddlers larger portions than they need, experts have warned.
Overweight children between four and 18 months old eat similar food to healthy weight children but have bigger portions, a study found.
The University College London report said parents may not realise how much young children should be eating or the dangers of them being overweight.
It said feeding guidelines needed to be more specific and better known.
‘Birth weight tracks’
The study of data from a UK survey, being presented at the European Obesity Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, looked at eating diaries parents kept for 2,564 children.
The diaries showed what children ate, how often they were eating and the size of their portions.
Researchers used the data to compare the eating habits of overweight children – classed as being in the heaviest 15% in their age group – and those of a healthy weight.
The report found overweight children were consuming larger meals than their counterparts (141 calories versus 130 calories).
Report author Hayley Syrad, from University College, London, said: “The research suggests eating frequency is having no impact on weight and it’s not that parents of larger children are giving them an extra Mars bar or apple – it’s that their portions are bigger.”
For every extra 24 calories consumed during each meal, there was a 9% increased risk of becoming overweight or obese, researchers said.
Ms Syrad said the research suggested some parents may be overfeeding their infants, potentially under the belief it is healthy for babies to be “chubby”.
She added: “We know that even birth weight tracks into later life. If children are overweight when they are under two it tracks into adulthood.
“A bigger baby is likely to be a bigger child and then a bigger adult.”