Every pregnant mom and expectant dad wants a healthy baby who grows into a strong, healthy adult. By far, most moms give up smoking and drinking for just this reason. A daily prenatal vitamin, frequent prenatal visits to the doctor, regular exercise and diet count as well.
But new research shows there may be another critical factor that counts, too – maternal obesity. Here’s the story.
Researchers whose work has been published in the British Medical Journal wanted to know how children born in the 1950s fared as adults. So they looked at 30,000 medical records seeing if a mom’s weight predicted how healthy her adult child would be.
Back in the day – I’m talking Dwight D. Eisenhower as president – 4 percent of the moms were obese. Today, it’s nearly 35 percent.
Previous research has shown that overweight moms are more likely to have gestational diabetes and serious pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure and preeclampsia. Obese moms are more likely to have large babies, difficult deliveries and Caesarean sections.
Studies also have shown that the children of obese mothers are more likely to be obese themselves, have high blood pressure, asthma and cholesterol problems.
But this latest study shocked me – it showed that these kids are more likely to die prematurely when they’re adults.
The study took place in the U.K., where the National Health Service keeps records on everybody from birth to death. Here’s the bottom line: If a mom was obese, her adult child was 50 percent more likely to have heart disease and 35 percent more likely to die prematurely from it. In other words, maternal obesity is a major risk factor for the adult child’s health.
It’s unclear why this is. It may be that an obese mom who continues to eat too much sends too many calories crossing over the placenta. This “oversupply” of nutrients isn’t good for the growing fetus.
Others theorize that this mountain of calories causes “metabolic programming,” which leads an adult child to a lifetime of weight problems. In any case, there is clearly an intergenerational transmission of obesity that occurs from the time a child is growing in the womb.
I have two recommendations:
1. Get fit before you get pregnant: Eat right, slim down, start exercise as a prelude to this most important event in your life.
2. Heed the experts: Follow what the experts say about weight gain in pregnancy – 15 to 25 pounds if you’re a normal weight mom, about 5 pounds less than that if you’re obese.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.