The United States leads the world in highest rates of childhood obesity.
According to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.
Having excess body fat, measured as body mass index, can put children at higher risk of other chronic health conditions and diseases, including asthma, Type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and heart disease.
In a new study published this week in the journal BMJ, researchers from several universities, including from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, tracked nearly 17,000 female nurses and their kids to observe how mothers’ habits may influence risk of childhood obesity. A total of 24,289 children ages 9-14 of the 16,945 nurses were followed throughout the 1990s as part of the study.
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Researchers found that after a median of five years of follow-up each, adolescents were 75 percent less likely to be very overweight if their mothers practiced these five specific healthy habits:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Light to moderate alcohol intake
- No smoking
Children following their moms’ optimal healthy habits were also 82 percent less likely to be obese compared to children of mothers who didn’t adopt any of the five healthy behaviors.
“This association was similar across sex and age groups and persisted in subgroups of children with various risk profiles defined by factors such as pregnancy complications, birth weight, gestational age, and gestational weight gain,” authors wrote in the report.
With one in five American children and adolescents aged 6-19 diagnosed as obese, researchers hope the new study highlights “the potential benefits of implementing family or parental based multifactorial interventions to curb the risk of childhood obesity.”
It’s important to note, however, that genetics do influence a child’s propensity to obesity. But the rapid incline in obesity rates, authors suggested, may imply “nurture” is a more significant factor than “nature” in the current epidemic.