Scientists have found that maintaining good health before pregnancy can avoid childhood obesity problems.
The research adds to a growing body of evidence that links a child's early environment before and soon after birth to their chance of becoming obese later in life. Scientists at the University of Southampton suggests that having a greater number of these risk factors is a strong predictor of being overweight or obese in childhood.
AdvertisementResearchers looked at five early life obesity risk factors: a short duration of breastfeeding and four maternal factors during pregnancy - obesity, excess pregnancy weight gain, smoking, and low vitamin D status.
They analysed 991 children. The results showed that at age four, children with four or five of these factors were 3.99 times more likely to be overweight or obese than children who had experienced none, and fat mass was, on average, 19% higher.
By age six, the risk increased so that these children were 4.65 times more likely to be overweight or obese. However, these differences were not explained by other factors, such as the children's quality of diet or physical activity levels. The data was a part of Southampton Women's Survey.
Early life may be a 'critical period' when appetite and regulation of energy balance are programmed, which has lifelong consequences for the risk of gaining excess weight, said Professor Sian Robinson, who led the study. The findings indicate that interventions to prevent obesity need to start earlier, even before conception, and that having a healthy body weight and not smoking at this time could be key.
The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.