Mother's health behaviors during pregnancy greatly impacts child's future obesity risk, a new study has revealed.
Children of mothers who smoke or are overweight during pregnancy have higher risk of childhood obesity, according to a recent University of Montreal study.
"Although behavior is extremely hard to change and is also influenced by a complex tangle of influencing factors in the environment, I hope these findings will help improve the social and medical services we offer to mothers and infants," said lead author Laura Pryor.
Pryor and the study team, led by Sylvana Cote, analysed data drawn from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development that ran from 1998 to 2006.
The team focused on 1,957 children whose height and weight measurements had been taken yearly, from the age of five months to eight years old, and recorded in a database.
This information enabled the team to look at the development of the children's body mass index (BMI).
The researchers identified three trajectory groups: children with low but stable BMI, children with moderate BMI, and children whose BMI was elevated and rising, called high-rising BMI.
"We discovered the trajectories of all three groups were similar until the children were about two and a half," Pryor said.
"Around that point the BMIs of the high-rising group of children began to take off. By the time these children moved into middle childhood, more than 50 per cent of them were obese according to international criteria."
Researchers found that two factors that may explain this: the mothers' weight around the time they gave birth and whether the mothers smoked.
A child with a mother who was overweight or who smoked during pregnancy was significantly more likely to be in the high-rising group.
These two factors were found to be much more important than the other criteria that were studied, such as the child's birth weight.
The study has been published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.