for Kids of Obese Moms
Children whose mothers were obese when
they became pregnant are at increased risk of becoming obese themselves,
according to a new study.
The results highlight the importance
of starting early to prevent childhood obesity, the study's author
told Reuters Health.
"Compared to children born to mothers
who are of normal weight in early pregnancy, those children born
to mothers who are obese in early pregnancy are twice as likely
to be obese by the time they reach school age," said Dr. Robert
C. Whitaker of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., a nonpartisan
firm in Princeton, New Jersey.
"Obesity prevention strategies
should begin at, or even before, birth," said Whitaker, who was
at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati
Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio when the study was
Obesity is well known to run in
families, but until now there has been no study on the relationship
between a mother's weight during pregnancy and her child's odds
of becoming obese by preschool age.
Whitaker studied more than 8,000
preschool children who were enrolled in the Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a federal
More than 30 percent of the children's
mothers had been obese during the first trimester of pregnancy.
By age 4, almost one out of every
four children born to an obese mother was obese, compared to fewer
than one out of 10 children born to non-obese mothers, Whitaker
reports in the online edition of the journal Pediatrics. The risk
was increased even after taking into account birth weight.
There are several possible explanations
for the apparent link between maternal obesity and an increased
risk of child obesity, according to Whitaker. A child may inherit
maternal genes that increase the risk of obesity. Another possibility
is that a mother's obesity may somehow affect a child's development
in the womb.
An obese mother may also increase
her child's risk of obesity by the choices she makes about a child's
food and physical activity, Whitaker notes.
The bad news, according to Whitaker,
is that many children in WIC are at risk for obesity because so
many women in the program are obese.
But a more optimistic attitude
is that the period before conception, during pregnancy and a child's
first years all offer "important opportunities to prevent obesity
by affecting an intergenerational cycle that promotes obesity,"
Whitaker notes in the report.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, July 2004.
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