Children and adolescents whose mothers follow five healthy habits are 75% less likely to become obese when compared with children of mothers who did not follow five specific habits.

This is according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in BMJ on July 4, 2018.

When both mother and child adhered to just 5 healthy habits, the risk of obesity was 82% lower compared with mother and children who did not.

“Our study was the first to demonstrate that an overall healthy lifestyle really outweighs any individual healthy lifestyle factors followed by mothers when it comes to lowering the risk of obesity in their children,” said Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study.

What are the health risks for children who are overweight or obese? Obesity in children and teens may lead to the following health problems:

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  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Social discrimination

Obese children may experience immediate health consequences which can lead to weight-related health problems in adulthood. Obese children and teens have been found to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and abnormal glucose tolerance.

In a sample of 5-to 17-year-olds, almost 60% of overweight children had at least one CVD risk factor and 25% of overweight children had two or more CVD risk factors. In addition, studies have shown that obese children and teens are more likely to become obese as adults.

In addition to suffering from poor physical health, overweight and obese children can often be targets of early social discrimination. The psychological stress of social stigmatization can cause low self-esteem which, in turn, can hinder academic and social functioning, and persist into adulthood. While research is still being conducted, there have been some studies showing that obese children are not learning as well as those who are not obese. Further, physical fitness has been shown to be associated with higher achievement.

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Tips for Mothers That Helps Their Children's Health

The 5 Healthy Habits for Moms that Reduce Their Child’s Risk of Obesity

The findings of this Harvard study highlight the crucial role a mother’s lifestyle choices can have on their children’s health and bolster support for family- or parent-based intervention strategies for reducing childhood obesity risk. Here are the five healthy habits for moms that will help their child live a healthier life.

  • eating a healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • keeping a healthy body weight
  • drinking alcohol in moderation
  • not smoking

One in five children in the U.S aged 6-19 have obesity, putting them at risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other metabolic conditions later in life. While it is known that genetics play a role in obesity, the rapid increase of the disease in recent years is likely due to changes in lifestyle and diet, indicating that “nurture” more than “nature” is fueling the current obesity epidemic.

For this study, researchers focused on the association between a mother’s lifestyle and the risk of obesity among their children and adolescents between 9 and 18 years of age. They examined data from 24,289 children enrolled in the Growing Up Today Study who were born to 16,945 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II.

The researchers found that 1,282 of the children, or 5.3%, developed obesity during a median five-year follow-up period. Maternal obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity were strongly associated with obesity among children and adolescents.

While the greatest drop in obesity risk was seen when mothers and children followed healthy lifestyle habits, many of the healthy habits had a noticeable impact on the risk of childhood obesity when assessed individually. Children of women who maintained a healthy body weight (body mass index 18.5-24.9) had a 56% lower risk of obesity compared with children of women who did not maintain a healthy weight, while children of mothers who did not smoke had a 31% lower risk of obesity compared with children of mothers who smoked.

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The risk of obesity was also lower among children of mothers who consumed low or moderate levels of alcohol compared with children of mothers who abstained from alcohol. Because so few mothers in the Nurses’ Health Study II were considered heavy drinkers, the researchers could not determine the association between heavy use of alcohol had the risk of obesity in children.

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To the surprise of the researchers, mothers’ dietary patterns were not associated with obesity in their children, possibly because children’s diets are influenced by many factors, including school lunches and available food options in their neighborhoods.

Other Harvard Chan School study authors included Klodian Dhana, Gang Liu, and Jorge E. Chavarro. Funding for this study came from grants UM1-CA176726, P30-DK046200, U54-CA155626, T32-DK007703-16, HD066963, HL096905, DK084001, OH009803, and MH087786 from the National Institutes of Health. Sun is supported by NIH grants, ES021372, ES022981, and HL34594.

“Maternal adherence to healthy lifestyle practices and risk of obesity in offspring: results from cohort studies of mother-child pairs,” Klodian Dhana, Jess Haines, Gang Liu, Cuilin Zhang, Xiaobin Wang, Alison E. Field, Jorge E. Chavarro, Qi Sun, BMJ, July 4, 2018, doi: 10.1136/bmj.k2486

Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Association between maternal adherence to healthy lifestyle practices and risk of obesity in offspring: results from two prospective cohort studies of mother-child pairs in the United States