How You Can Prevent Childhood Obesity
First Lady Michelle Obama has been all over the news lately pushing her “Let’s Move” initiative which advocates for better nutrition and more activity, especially in children. Childhood obesity is high in the U.S. (approximately 13%), although it has leveled off since the First Lady launched the “Let’s Move” program in 2010.
While I am not a pediatrician who deals with children, I am a gynecologist who deals with parents and am compelled to write about our nation’s obesity epidemic. We know that the problem often starts in childhood, but did you know that its origin may be before you get pregnant?
Maternal pre-pregnancy obesity more than DOUBLES the risk of childhood obesity, and if you smoke, your child has a 35% increased risk of childhood obesity.
Once pregnant, you need to be especially conscious of your health and weight. This is supported by numerous studies that show a correlation between the fetal environment and childhood obesity. More than a 16 kg (35 pound) weight gain during pregnancy increases the odds of obesity in the infant, while a weight gain < 9 kg (20 pound) favors a normal weight child. Low birth weight infants have a higher incidence of obesity by age four, so proper nutrition during pregnancy and good prenatal care to help ensure adequate infant weight gain is essential — particularly since poor prenatal dietary intakes of energy, protein, and micronutrients are associated with an increased risk of adult onset obesity.
Additionally, Vitamin D levels are lower in overweight people. In infants born to overweight moms, cord blood Vitamin D levels are also lower than in their peers, and this may affect their future metabolism. Supplementation with Vitamin D, as well as taking prenatal vitamins, plus eating right and exercising provides long term benefits not just to you, but also to your family.
Children whose parents have less education and lower socioeconomic status are also at increased risk of obesity. This may be due lack of knowledge of how to eat healthy, as well as how to do so on a budget. For example, to save money on “good foods,” buying frozen fruits and vegetables is a good alternative. Encouraging food stores in low income neighborhoods to have a variety of fruits and vegetables available at reasonable prices and teaching cooking is crucial to encourage proper eating habits for pregnant moms and also their children. In today’s FAST society, waiting for cooked food, sitting down to eat, chewing slowly and savoring every bite encourages better eating habits.
Once your baby is born, there is still more you can do to help raise a healthy child. For example, breastfed infants who are introduced to solid foods before the fifth month have a decreased likelihood of obesity. Too much protein before the age of two (for example, too many “Happy Meals”) is associated with an increased Body Mass Index (BMI) later. So I always encourage new moms to breastfeed and to listen to their pediatricians, especially when it comes to guidance on how to start adding foods to the baby’s diet.
Fun Fitness for Fertility was created to help women planning a pregnancy to get in shape and choose their foods wisely. Our goal is to empower women to fight for the health of their children, particularly in a time when childhood obesity is an epidemic.
So, let’s move and get you and your future family on the road to a healthy, happy life!