The children of mothers who are obese before pregnancy or who smoke during pregnancy, have a higher risk of becoming overweight at a very young age, a study in the journal Pediatrics reports. The condition can be perpetuated as the children get older.
“One of the questions we wanted to explore was whether the development of early childhood overweight was associated with maternal behaviors,” Dr. Pamela J. Salsberry of Ohio State University in Columbus, told Reuters Health. “We were interested in how pre-pregnancy weight and smoking affect a child’s risk, but also in how the risk develops over time.”
Salsberry and her colleague Dr. Patricia B. Reagan analyzed a database that provided information on height and weight of 3,022 children at three different time points: 2- to 3-, 4- to 5-, and 6- to 7-years old, as well as on the mother’s prenatal factors.
“We found an association between prenatal maternal weight during pregnancy and overweight development at ages 3 to 4,” Salsberry said. “When mothers are overweight, with a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or above, there’s an increased risk for the child to be overweight.” The results also revealed an association between prenatal smoking and children becoming obese at an early age.
When the investigators looked at the next two time periods, 4- to 5- and 6- to 7-years old, they found that if the children were overweight at a young age, they continued to be overweight. “We found this persistence of overweight in children,” Salsberry said, “but interestingly, we also found an independent effect of prenatal exposures.”
“A child who was overweight at ages 4 or 5 was going to be at minimum six times more likely to be overweight at ages 6 to 7, but a child could also move from not being overweight in the second time point to being overweight in the third time point, and that was associated to the prenatal weight of the mom,” Salsberry explained. “Children were almost three times more likely to become overweight at this last time point.”
There are two main implications of this study for the clinical practice, according to Salsberry: It gives women of childbearing age an additional reason to think about their own weight status because it indicates that obesity is not only a risk for them but that it might also be a risk for their children. It should also raise awareness among pediatricians that obesity problems start when children are very young.
“We need to intervene very early if we see a pattern being established, or if we see a family who clearly has a risk for obesity,” Salsberry said.