Research Suggests a Parent's Lifestyle Impacts Childhood Obesity
Our little ones learn by watching us. Research shows that a mother's health habits have an impact on childhood obesity.
This new research shows that your mother could have more of an effect on your weight and body mass index than your DNA.
Related - How We Can End Childhood Obesity
If that's the case, what are the five behaviors you need to adapt so your children maintain a healthy weight?
The Study on Adult Behavior
A study published in 2018 in The BMJ reviewed health records from 24,289 children aged 9 to 14.
This study found that mothers who ate healthy diets, exercised regularly, maintained a healthy body mass index, drank alcohol in moderation, and did not smoke were 75% less likely to have a child that is obese compared to mothers who did not maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Even more surprising, if both the mother and children embraced these five habits, the risk of obesity is 82% lower.
Qi Sun, MD, is an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and they break down the reasons these behaviors impact your child's health.
1.) Getting Enough Physical Activity
Parents who are active have children who will be more active.
A paper published in the journal Pediatrics found this to be true. In fact, the less active the moms were, the less active their children were.
Sun believes that those who prioritize exercise are also more apt to register their children in organized sports such as basketball or soccer.
Sun mentions that active moms may spend time engaging in activities like jumping rope, hopscotch, biking, and swimming all can entice your children to join in.
2.) Eating a Healthier Diet
It's easy to drive to a McDonalds and get your kids their chicken nuggets.
According to a 2010 study, children get around 30% of their calories from snacks.
So all of those desserts and sugar-laden beverages are leading to a scale that creeps higher and higher.
“Children are more likely to accept [healthy foods] like whole grains and fruits and vegetables if their mothers prepare them and eat them,” Sun says.
3.) Maintaining a Healthy Body Mass Index
A study took 215 mother/son and 212 mother/daughter pairs and found a strong correlation between maternal body mass index and the risk of childhood obesity.
The research found that it is a combination of genetics and home environment.
Sun agrees, noting body mass index is “a good measure of physical activity and diet” and one of the strongest factors for predicting childhood obesity.
Exposure to secondhand smoke has serious health consequences. Furthermore, children of parents who smoke are at a much higher risk of picking up the habit, according to more research published in the journal Pediatrics.
This study found that when parents smoke, their children are more apt to being overweight or obese. This obviously creates a lot of issues.
Sun has been noted saying that "steering clear of tobacco has a significant impact on childhood health. If a mother doesn’t smoke, children’s risk of being obese drops substantially.”
Children with parents who smoke are at a higher risk for:
- Increased risk of asthma
- Lung cancer
- Cardiovascular disease
5.) Moderation in Drinking
Research confirms that a moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
Moderate alcohol consumption in this regard is defined as one drink per day.
Research also found that women who consumed a light-to-moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight over a 13-year period than those who did not drink.
Lastly, this research found that children of moderate drinkers were less likely to be obese.
Even Sun mentions they do not understand exactly how this mechanism works.
Wrapping It Up
Sun notes that the research found that there was a cumulative impact from these five factors, but two factors had the largest effect on childhood obesity.
"The smoking status and body mass index showed the strongest connections," mentions Sun.
Sun hopes that the research helps encourage parents to think about their own lifestyles and how they are impacting their children.
“It’s never too late to think about improving your lifestyle. The actions mothers take could help to cure the childhood obesity epidemic,” said Sun.
Coming from a family of heavy drinking, smoking, unhealthy eating people, a lot of this research hits home.
I'm certainly not the one to tell someone how to live, but making a few better choices can help your children succeed and lead a life full of healthy habits.
Getting healthy is contagious, so pass it on.