Mums can help reduce children’s chances of obesity

By June Shannon Obesity News   |   6th Jul 2018

Study confirms important role of mothers in influencing children’s health

A new study has found that by adopting a healthy lifestyle, mothers can help to greatly reduce the chances of their children becoming obese.

The findings show that children of mothers who maintained a healthy weight, exercised regularly, did not smoke, ate a healthy diet, and were light to moderate drinkers, had the lowest risk of developing obesity.

The researchers suggested that if both mothers and their children stuck to a healthy lifestyle this could result in an even further reduction in the risk of childhood obesity.

Obesity in childhood is associated with an increased risk of several disorders, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as premature death, in adulthood.

Previous studies have shown that children’s lifestyle choices are largely influenced by their mothers, however, it is unknown whether healthy lifestyle patterns in mothers during their offspring’s childhood and adolescence influence the development of obesity.

Obesity in childhood is associated with an increased risk of several disorders, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease


Therefore, an international team based in Canada and the US set out to investigate if mother and child lifestyle factors had an effect on the risk of childhood obesity.

They examined medical history and lifestyle characteristics of 24,289 children aged 9-14 years who were born to 16,945 women.

Participants completed detailed questionnaires about their medical history and lifestyle, including body mass index (BMI), physical activity levels and diet. Mothers were also asked about their alcohol intake and smoking history.

Based on this information, the researchers calculated the risk of obesity for each child, using BMI measurements.

After taking account of potentially influential factors, such as age, ethnicity, history of chronic diseases, household income and education, the researchers found that the risk of obesity was 56 per cent lower in children of women with a healthy body weight than children of mothers in other BMI categories.

Compared with offspring of women who smoked, children of non-smoking mothers had a 31 per cent lower risk of obesity.

“Obesity is a complex multi-factorial problem with no one single cause and no simple solution,"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

Children of mothers who exercised for the recommended 150 minutes or more a week – and who were light to moderate drinkers (1-2 small glasses of wine or a pint of standard strength beer a day) – also had a lower risk of obesity compared with children of mothers who did not exercise and who did not drink alcohol.

Lastly, children of mothers who followed all five low risk lifestyle factors (a high-quality diet, normal body weight, regular physical activity, light to moderate intake of alcohol, and non-smoking) had a 75 per cent reduced risk of developing obesity, compared with children of women who did not follow any of the low risk lifestyle factors.

The researchers noted that their study “shows that mothers’ overall healthy lifestyle during the period of their offspring’s childhood and adolescence is associated with a substantially lower risk of obesity in their children”.

These findings highlight the potential benefits of implementing parent-based interventions to curb the risk of childhood obesity, they said.

“Prospective research examining the role of fathers in the development of obesity in offspring is needed” they added.

Commenting on the study, Irish Heart Foundation dietitian Sarah Noone said, “Obesity is a complex multi-factorial problem with no one single cause and no simple solution. This study confirms our understanding of the important role of mothers in influencing their children’s health. The challenge for parents is that we know the environment we live in has changed massively and it is the major influence on obesity rates. Advertisers bombard children with slick marketing for foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Shops are often laid out to encourage impulse buying of sweets and crisps. Fast food outlets are often clustered around schools.  The scale of this challenge is huge and requires a range of policy measures to be introduced to tackle obesity.”

This study was published in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).


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