Kids are a reflection of their parents’ behavior – especially their mothers whose example could be crucial in developing healthy habits in children and lowering their risk of obesity, according to a new study published in The BMJ.
Childhood Obesity: A Growing Problem
Childhood obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges facing our modern society and the problem is no longer limited to developed countries. The prevalence of the epidemic has now reached low and middle-income countries with the total number of overweight children below the age of five increasing to 41 million.
Half of the obese children belonged to Asian countries whereas a quarter belonged to Africa, according to the figures provided by World Health Organization. In the United States alone, childhood obesity has increased threefold since 1970 with almost 20 per cent of the population between the ages 6 and 19 classified as obese.
Obesity at a young age leads to serious health implications such as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, asthma, joint pain and depression. The long-term impacts of childhood obesity are often irreversible and may lead to early death but the problem can be avoided from an early age if parents make an effort to change their dietary habits from an early age and lead by example.
Mothers’ Role in Children’s Health
Even though children’s risk of obesity greatly depends on their genetic make-up, researchers argue that the increased rate of the epidemic over the past few decades may have more to do with environmental factors than heredity.
The author of the study observed the lifestyle choices of mothers and analyzed their effect on children’s obesity rates. The results showed that there was a direct link between mothers’ lifestyle choices and the likelihood of their children becoming overweight at a young age.
The author calculated the body mass index of the mothers and their children by taking their height and weight measurements. Mothers who maintained a healthy BMI had a positive influence on their children’s lifestyle choices, consequently cutting their likelihood of becoming obese by 75 per cent. Although BMI isn’t the most accurate measure of obesity since it doesn’t take muscle mass and bone density into consideration, it is still considered an acceptable way to gauge obesity rates when studying larger populations.
The researchers compiled data on 16,945 women and their 24,289 children from the age 9 to 14 using two studies conducted in the past: Growing Up Today Study and the Nurses’ Health Study. The researchers observed the children’s lifestyle habits and their BMI for five years after collecting the initial data. Only 5% of the participating children became obese during the 5-year period.
The researchers were surprised to find out that the one factor that contributed to their weight gain even more than genetics was their mothers’ lifestyle choices.
Most of them were obese or overweight themselves, passing on bad eating and smoking habits to their children. Children belonging to non-smoking mothers had less than 31 per cent chance of encountering obesity of other health problems later on in their lives.
Here are the five common lifestyle choices of healthy mothers who were 75 per cent less likely to have obese children.
5 Habits of Mothers with Healthy Children
According to the research, children with the lowest obesity risk belonged to mothers with followed five healthy lifestyle choices. Firstly, they adhered to the exercise recommendation of at least 150 minutes per week, which allowed them to maintain a healthy weight.
These women also refrained from smoking or drinking and were less likely to pass on these unhealthy habits to their young ones.
Moreover, mothers with healthy BMI were also more educated about the benefits of a high-quality diet, and maintained higher consumption of fresh produce like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. They also ate less junk or fatty foods and steered clear of sugary beverages and sodas.
Lastly, healthy mums consumed no more than two small glasses of wine every day, which has proven benefits for reducing the risk of heart disease and cancers.
In conclusion, researchers stressed that mothers’ lifestyle has a greater impact on children’s health and obesity risk than any other environmental factor. If both, mothers and kids made healthy lifestyle decisions such as eating well and exercising regularly, the risk of childhood obesity could be lowered by 82 per cent.