Lately, childhood obesity research has been turning up a lot of results that include the word “pregnancy.” New studies appear with frightening regularity, demonstrating various kinds of harm that can be done to a fetus by parental ignorance or disregard.
There was pretty good evidence already that a high birth weight predicts an overweight adult, but how far back does the causation go? Apparently, the vigilance needs to start before conception. A woman needs to be at a healthy weight before even thinking of a getting pregnant.
In Norway, the University of Oslo and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health studied 58,383 pregnant women, wanting answers about the association between maternal weight before a baby is even conceived, the mother’s weight gain during pregnancy, and the baby’s weight at birth. ScienceDaily says:
Results of the study showed that birthweight of the newborn child increased with increasing maternal pre-pregnant BMI, and that offspring birthweight also increased with increasing weight gain of the mother during pregnancy.
Disturbingly, the study also found that the most educated women in Norway tend to give birth to the heaviest children. While that is disappointing, it also gives hope, because people with a higher education level might be easier to persuade and re-educate.
Tracy Connor elaborated on that same news item by speaking with a couple of American physicians, one of whom was Dr. Jennifer Wu of Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital, who said:
You should try to reach your ideal body weight before pregnancy, and during pregnancy stick to the recommended weight gain, which is 20 to 25 pounds.
Dr. Jill Rabin of Long Island Jewish Medical Center brought up another possible complication: the likelihood that a baby of more than 10 pounds will make a Caesarean section delivery necessary. In the U.S., about one-third of births are accomplished by that method, and many health care professionals believe that too many C-sections are performed. In general, non-surgical solutions are preferable to surgery, and there is suspicion that often, operations are performed not for the patient’s good, but for the profit they generate.
In the United Kingdom, Jane Brewin reported for The Scotsman:
Studies have shown that part of the reason behind this is the poor diet of the mother while pregnant, which in turn makes the baby more likely to crave a similar diet themselves. The baby as such is ‘programmed’ in the womb by an adverse fetal environment during pregnancy.
Brewin also notes the astonishing statistic that in the U.K., 50% of the women of childbearing age are overweight or obese. That’s half!
And it’s not just Britain. In Utah, Joni Hemond told a reporter that at the Teen Mother & Child Program, of which she is pediatric medical director, 54% of her clinic’s teenage mother clients are overweight or obese. That’s more than half! Of the children already born, 28% are overweight or obese. So serious is the problem, it engenders headlines that sound downright hostile. “Clinic attacks obesity by targeting pregnant moms” does not have the aura of comfort we would prefer to associate with articles about motherhood.
The University of Utah clinic carries out this “attack” by educating teen moms about the “5-2-1-0” nutrition and exercise guidelines. The hope is that not only will babies be born with normal birth weight, but that their young parents will start right from the beginning to raise them within those guidelines:
That means eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, spending less than 2 hours watching TV or a computer screen, getting 1 hour of exercise and drinking no sweetened beverages.
Women with high blood sugar at 28 weeks of pregnancy were three and a half times more likely to give birth to babies weighing more than nine pounds and 15 ounces than those women with the lowest levels of blood sugar.
We said that in Norway, the farther a mother proceeded in school, the more likely she is to have an overweight baby. There is another reference to highly educated mothers, this time in Brazil, where the more extensively schooled have a tendency to deliver their children by C-section rather than vaginally.
Amy Norton reported for Reuters that Brazilian researchers looked at more than 2,000 young people age 23 to 25. About a quarter of the subjects were obese, made up of the group (10%) who had been born naturally, and the group (15%) who had been delivered by C-section. The researchers do not claim a cause-and-effect relationship, because there are too many other variables they were unable to account for. Chiefly, it was impossible at this time to go back and discover what the mothers’ weights were when their children were born and before.
But Dr. Helena Goldani points out something else that might be meaningful, related to previous studies of the gut bacteria residing inside of obese adults. Their intestinal flora tend to be sparsely populated with microbes called Bifidobacteria and others that probably influence metabolism, and thus the body’s regulation of fat. By strange coincidence, these are exactly the friendly bacteria that children born by C-section are lacking, because they were not able to acquire them in the usual way, via a trip through the birth canal. The place occupied by these intestinal bacteria is of extreme interest to obesity researchers.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Mothers’ Weight Before and During Pregnancy Affects Baby’s Weight,” ScienceDaily, 12/13/11
Source: “Study: Mother’s pre-pregnancy weight can influence baby’s birth size,” NY Daily News, 12/13/11
Source: “Analysis: Babies will crave the kind of food mother ate,” Scotsman.com, 04/03/12
Source: “Clinic attacks obesity by targeting pregnant moms,” KSL.com, 10/16/11
Source: “Study: Childhood obesity linked to sugar intake of pregnant mothers,” Irish Examiner, 11/21/11
Source: “Are C-sections fueling the obesity epidemic?,” Reuters, 05/12/11
Image by philcampbell (Phil Campbell), used under its Creative Commons license.