Study: Maternal Habits May Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

Two new reviews from MassGeneral for Children look at childhood obesity risk factors and interventions.


Pregnancy photo via Shutterstock

Preventing childhood obesity may start before your son or daughter ever tastes a Happy Meal, according to two new articles from MassGeneral Hospital for Children.

The first article reviews hundreds of studies examining causes of childhood obesity, while the second looks at potential interventions. Both articles found, among other things, that mothers’ prenatal habits may help determine whether their children become overweight.

The first review, which looked at almost 300 studies published between 1980 and 2014, found a few trends that seemed consistently indicative of childhood obesity: maternal smoking, higher maternal weight during pregnancy, heavier newborn birth weights, and rapid infant weight gain after birth.

The second review, focused on interventions, also found some ties between maternal health and child’s weight. In-home visits focused on maternal diet and infant feeding, starting during pregnancy and continuing after birth, and improving the mother’s fitness regimen and eating habits both saw some success at combatting childhood obesity. Feeding infants hydrolyzed protein formula also seemed to work, as did behavioral counseling.

While the reviews provide valuable insight about preventing childhood obesity—an epidemic that affects roughly 17 percent of kids ages 2 to 19 nationwide, and 14.5 percent of Massachusetts 10- to 17-year-olds—the researchers noted in a statement that many promising interventions have been understudied.

“The limited success of these interventions suggests that many, and possibly more influential, factors related to social influences and the community environment—including food subsidies and fast-food marketing—may have a powerful impact on the risk of childhood obesity,” said Tiffany Blake-Lamb, who led the second review, in the statement. 

The researchers also recommended looking into things like maternal weight before pregnancy, the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages, and early-life tobacco exposure, and further studying how formula versus breastfeeding relates to childhood obesity.

While more research is needed to find the best possible interventions, expectant and soon-to-be expectant mothers should take note—your own choices may be integral to helping your child hit and maintain a healthy weight.