Children of mothers who maintain a healthy lifestyle have a lower risk of developing obesity than children of mothers who don't, a new study shows.
The combination of eating well, exercising, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, and drinking in moderation outweighs any one habit, Harvard researchers found. The more healthy the woman’s lifestyle, the more benefits there were.
The findings suggest that if both mothers and their children stuck to a healthy lifestyle, this could result in an even further reduction in the risk of childhood obesity.
Children and mothers who follow five healthy habits are 75 percent less likely to become obese than children of mothers who do not follow any such habits. When both mother and child adhered to these habits, the risk of obesity was 82 percent lower compared with mothers and children who did not.
The study was led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and published in the BMJ.
What are the five healthy habits?
Eating a healthy diet
Keeping a healthy body weight
Drinking alcohol in moderation
“Our study was the first to demonstrate that an overall healthy lifestyle really outweighs any individual healthy lifestyle factors followed by mothers when it comes to lowering the risk of obesity in their children,” said Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study.
One in five American children and teenagers aged 6-19 years is obese. Obesity in childhood is associated with an increased risk of several disorders, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as premature death, in adulthood.
While genetics play a role in obesity, the rapid increase of the disease in recent years is likely due to changes in lifestyle and diet. Previous studies have shown that children's lifestyle choices are largely influenced by their mothers. But it isn’t known whether healthy lifestyle patterns in mothers during their offspring's childhood and adolescence influence the development of obesity.
Researchers examined medical history and lifestyle characteristics of 24,289 children aged 9-14 years who were born to 16,945 women in two US studies. Participants completed detailed questionnaires about their medical history and lifestyle, including body mass index (BMI), physical activity levels and diet. Mothers were also asked about their alcohol intake and smoking history.
Researchers looked at the association between a mother's lifestyle and the risk of obesity among their children and adolescents. Based on this information, the researchers calculated the risk of obesity for each child, using BMI measurements.
The results showed that 5.3 per cent of the group developed obesity during a median five year follow-up period. Maternal obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity were strongly associated with obesity among children and adolescents.
The findings of this study highlight the crucial role a mother's lifestyle choices can have on their children's health.