Weight Gain During Pregnancy Early Indicator for Childhood Obesity

Obesity prevention should begin before birth, study says.

The new study suggests that pregnancy could be the best time to prevent obesity in children.

The study on obesity looked at 41,133 mothers and their children in Arkansas, and the conclusion was that high pregnancy weight gain increases the risk of obesity in those children through age 12. The findings were published Oct. 1st in PLoS Medicine. 

“From the public health perspective, excessive weight gain during pregnancy may have a potentially significant influence on propagation of the obesity epidemic,” says the study’s senior author Dr. David S. Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Ludwig says that programs to limit pregnancy weight gain could help prevent some cases of childhood obesity. “Pregnancy presents an attractive target for obesity prevention programs, because women tend to be particularly motivated to change behavior during this time,” he says.

According to a statement form Boston Children’s Hospital:

Researchers have previously observed a familial tendency toward obesity. Children with mothers who are obese, or gain too much weight during pregnancy, are more likely to be obese themselves. However, this relationship may be due to confounding factors such as shared genes, common environmental influences and socioeconomic and demographic considerations, rather than any direct biological effects of maternal over-nutrition.

While studying the causes of childhood obesity, Ludwig and his team linked the birth records of mothers with two or more children to school records that included the child’s body mass index (BMI) at an average age of 11.9 years, and then made statistical comparisons between siblings. Comparing siblings is perfect for this type of study because on average siblings have relatively the same distribution of obesity genes, the same home environment, and the same socioeconomic and demographic factors.

Ludwig previously led a similar study and these findings are on par with the results that showed excessive weight gain in pregnancy increased the birth weight of the infant. The effect of maternal weight gain apparently continues through childhood. “Excessive pregnancy weight gain may make a significant contribution to the obesity epidemic,” Ludwig says. “Children born to women who gained excessive amounts of weight – 40 pounds or more – during pregnancy had an eight percent increased risk of obesity.”

According to the report from Boston Children’s Hospital, this risk could translate into several hundred thousand cases of excess childhood obesity worldwide each year.