Improving Your Health Before Pregnancy May Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

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Researchers at University of Southampton have found that a child’s early environment right before and after birth could ultimately determine a higher risk of obesity later in life. 

As previous studies have shown that a number of individual early life ‘risk factors’ could increase the risk of being overweight or obese during childhood, scientists from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton looked at five early life obesity risk factors, including the following, courtesy of a news release: a short duration of breastfeeding (less than one month) and four maternal factors during pregnancy – obesity, excess pregnancy weight gain, smoking, and low vitamin D status.

For the study, they analyzed data from 991 children who took part in the Southampton Women’s Survey, which is one of the largest studies of mothers recruited before pregnancy, along with infants and dhildren.

Researchers discovered that by age four, children with four or five of the risk factors were about 3.99 times more likely to be overweight or even obese than those who had experienced none. Researchers also found that fat mass was about 19 percent higher among those with the risk factors.

By age six, the risk had further increased to 4.65 times more likely to be overweight or obese and fat mass was also 47 percent higher. Furthermore, these qualities were not explained by other factors, including the children’s quality of diet or physical activity levels.

“Early life may be a ‘critical period’ when appetite and regulation of energy balance are programmed, which has lifelong consequences for the risk of gaining excess weight,” said lead study author Professor Sian Robinson , in a news release. “Although the importance of early prevention is recognised, much of the focus is on school-aged children. Our findings suggest that interventions to prevent obesity need to start earlier, even before conception, and that having a healthy body weight and not smoking at this time could be key.”

Researchers believe that these findings could have important implications for obesity prevention policy in future health interventions.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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