Childhood Obesity: Identifying the Risk Before Life Starts
Obesity is a lifelong disease—one that interrupts chronic health and can lead to severe concerns like heart disease and diabetes. Losing weight is different than truly overcoming obesity, as weight re-gain is a risk factor that you constantly have to be aware of. But for many people who struggle with obesity, the future is merely a reflection of the past.
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.
This understanding of the family influence on obesity has led researchers to look into the homes of children who are at an increased risk for obesity and to determine the greatest risk factors and best potential interventions to put a stop to obesity before it becomes a lifelong issue. 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.
Childhood Obesity: The Risk Factors
The researchers found that the following criteria 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 first eight months after birth
Childhood Obesity: Intervention Strategies
Identifying the risk factors gave researchers insight into what children are most likely to develop an issue with weight gain and obesity, starting from a young age but also moving later into life. The researchers believe that knowing these risk factors will give power to pediatricians across the country, who can spot early on the potential for obesity. But spotting the risk for obesity is only half the problem. Once identified, how is obesity to be addressed—especially in children so young?
The researchers focused their efforts on determining the most effective intervention strategies for those who are at an increased risk for obesity. The most effective interventions were:
- Enhanced focus on the mother’s diet
- Breast feeding
- Increase to mother’s physical activity level
Something interesting that the researchers found was that these strategies were most successful when they began during pregnancy, so prior to the birth of the child, and then continued on through infancy. The most successful programs included high accountability, even with the inclusion of 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 answer then, according to researchers, is to focus on the mother. Women who are planning on becoming pregnant or who are pregnant and who have a history of weight issues or obesity are encouraged to work closely with a medical weight loss doctor. Dieting during pregnancy is never recommended, but working closing weight a medical weight loss doctor early on can help you get started with the healthy lifestyle changes that it will take to prevent your child from experiencing a lifetime of weight issues themselves.