For many people who struggle with obesity, the past offers clues to the present (and the future). That’s because people who are overweight or obese as children are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults. Likewise, children who are born into a home where obesity is present in one or more family members are at an increased risk of becoming obese themselves.
Researchers have found that, for some people, the trouble with obesity and weight gain actually begins prior to birth. Addressing risk factors for obesity during pregnancy, and then throughout infancy and early childhood, may be the answer to helping children develop a healthier lifestyle — and potentially even a life free of obesity.
Watch out for these five childhood obesity risk factors.
The researchers found that the following were the highest risk factors in determining if a child is going to face an issue of weight gain and obesity:
- maternal smoking
- elevated pregnancy weight
- excess weight gain during pregnancy
- high birth rate
- rapid weight gain during the first eight months after birth
So we know what to look out for – now what can we do about it?
Moms have a big role to play from Day 1.
Understanding these risk factors is critical, and it will help pediatricians across the country to spot early the potential for obesity. But that’s just Step 1. Researchers also worked to determine the most effective intervention strategies for those at increased risk for obesity:
- enhanced focus on the mother’s diet
- breast feeding
- increase in the mother’s physical activity level
The researchers found was that these strategies were most successful when they began during pregnancy (i.e., prior to the birth of the child) and continued through infancy. In addition, the most successful programs included high accountability, including home visits. Simply giving dietary advice and recommending exercise did nothing to change the lifelong risk of obesity for either the mother or the child.
The takeaway from researchers is to focus on moms. For pregnant women and mothers-to-be, this means starting now to understand and make healthy lifestyle changes that can both help you and prevent your child from experiencing a lifetime of weight issues.