According to a new study, 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.
The researchers also say the condition can be perpetuated as the children get older, in a research paper published in the journal Pediatrics.
Dr. Pamela J. Salsberry and Dr. Patricia B. Reagan of Ohio State University, Columbus, who were interested in how pre-pregnancy weight and the child's obesity risk, explored whether the development of early childhood overweight was associated with the mothers' behaviors.
The two doctors 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.
They say they found an association between prenatal maternal weight during pregnancy and overweight development at ages 3 to 4. When mothers are overweight, there was an increased risk for the child to be overweight.
The results also revealed a link between prenatal smoking and children becoming obese at an early age.
At the next two time periods, the investigators found that if the children were overweight at a young age, they continued to be overweight.
It appears that a child who is overweight at ages 4 or 5 is 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 linked to the prenatal weight of the mother. Children were almost three times more likely to become overweight at this last time point.
According to Salsberry, the study has two main implications for the clinical practitioner to consider; women of childbearing age need to be aware that obesity is a risk not only for them, but it is also a risk for their children, and obesity problems start when children are very young.
Salsberry says early pediatric intervention is needed if a pattern is being established, or if a family has a clear risk for obesity.