That’s the message that Lisa Bodnar, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, stressed to an Institute of Medicine committee at a recent workshop in Washington, D.C., to summarize the state of science surrounding childhood obesity.
“Whether or not the mother is obese is the strongest factor in predicting whether or not the child will be obese,” said Dr. Bodnar, whose research focuses on nutritional and behavioral practices for pregnant women and their children.
The reason that maternal obesity increases the risk of childhood obesity is probably due to a combination of factors including genetics, metabolic programming of the baby while in the womb and the child growing up with the same eating and activity habits that led to his or her mother’s obesity, Dr. Bodnar explained.
The workshop, “Obesity in the Early Childhood Years: State of the Science and Implementation of Promising Solutions,” sought to identify research-backed strategies to help reduce the prevalence of obesity. In addition to Dr. Bodnar’s talk, other experts discussed the effect that breastfeeding, early eating habits, sleep patterns and physical activity have on childhood obesity.
In multiple recent studies, Dr. Bodnar has found that when women start their pregnancies at healthy weights, it not only helps the resulting child be a healthy weight but also reduces the risk of stillbirth and the chances the baby will die in his or her first year of life.
“Obesity is a public health crisis that is being passed from generation to generation,” said Dr. Bodnar. “If we can work at a societal level to intervene and reduce pre-pregnancy obesity, we’ll be doing more than just improving the woman’s health by helping her lose weight; we’ll be setting the baby up with a better chance of maintaining a healthy weight all the way into adulthood.