They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to raising children. A new Harvard study agrees, claiming that a mom’s lifestyle is critical when it comes to whether or not her child will become obese.
With one in five children in the United States grossly overweight, childhood obesity has become an epidemic. While genetics can undoubtedly contribute to excess fat in children, the steady increase in obesity over the last few decades has clearly demonstrated that lifestyle is more likely the culprit.
While many modifiable habits can impact a child’s odds of becoming obese, a new Harvard study found that children of mothers who follow a healthy lifestyle have a significantly lower chance of becoming obese than those whose mothers did not. In fact, the study pointed to five specific lifestyle choices that influence a child’s obesity risk factors.
The results, which were published this week in the British Medical Journal, are not incredibly surprising. However, they do have far-reaching implications for the potential benefit of curbing childhood obesity through parent-based interventions.
“Our study was the first to demonstrate that an overall healthy lifestyle really outweighs any individual healthy lifestyle factors followed by mothers when it comes to lowering the risk of obesity in their children,” Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study, said in a press release.
Five habits that make for a fit family, according to @HarvardChanSPH research:
-eating a healthy diet
-keeping a healthy body weight
-drinking alcohol in moderation
Here's why: https://t.co/V5S1CtVdkB
— Harvard University (@Harvard) July 5, 2018
For the study, researchers examined data from 24,289 9 to 18-year-old children of nurses who were enrolled in the Growing Up Today Study. Of the children in the study, 1,282, or approximately 5%, went on to become obese in the five-year follow-up period. However, children of mothers who followed these five healthy habits combined were 75% less likely to become obese:
1. Eating a Healthy Diet
Using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, diet quality was assessed based on how often the mothers ate vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fatty acids, red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats, and salt.
2. Exercising Regularly
Women who exercised vigorously for at least 150 minutes a week had a lower chance of their children becoming obese than those women who exercised less frequently.
3. Keeping a Healthy Body Weight
Children of women who maintained a healthy body weight as defined by a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 had a 56% lower risk of obesity when compared with women who did not keep to a healthy weight.
4. Drinking Alcohol in Moderation
Interestingly, compared with the kids of mothers who did not drink alcohol, light to moderate alcohol intake in mothers was associated with a reduced risk of obesity in offspring.
5. Not Smoking
Children of non-smoking moms had a 31% lower risk of obesity compared with children of smokers.
Related Study: TV in Child’s Bedroom Linked to Obesity
Interestingly, the study found that what mothers ate had minimal effect on their child’s obesity risk. Researchers speculated that children’s diets are also influenced by their peers and the food available outside the home, such as at school.
“What surprised me the most was the strength of the association. I didn’t expect to see such a strong association with a mother’s lifestyle and the risk of obesity among children,” Sun said.