Nav: Home

Preventing child obesity in the next generation must start before conception

October 13, 2016

The key to preventing obesity in future generations is to make their parents healthier before they conceive, leading health researchers suggest.

In a series of papers, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, the researchers say that the time before couples conceive represents a missed opportunity to prevent the transmission of obesity risk from one generation to the next. They argue that a new approach is needed to motivate future parents to live a healthier lifestyle.

There is now a wealth of evidence that the risk of obesity and its associated conditions, such as heart disease diabetes and some cancers, could impact the developing baby. In turn, when the child becomes a young adult they may pass the risk of obesity on to their children - it is a vicious cycle.

The nature of this problem is not adequately appreciated. Many young people, whilst appearing outwardly healthy, are nonetheless on a risky path to obesity and chronic disease and more likely to pass this risk to their children, the researchers warn. Many pregnancies are unplanned, and the special needs of adolescents and young people at this important time are not sufficiently recognised. Far from helping them to prepare and plan for pregnancy and parenthood, many public health programmes assume that their needs are similar to the general population and require no special measures or provisions.

In a comment piece accompanying the research papers, Professor Mark Hanson of the University of Southampton, says an entirely new approach is needed that engages parents-to-be and encourages them to be part of the solution.

"The approach needed is both top-down and bottom-up, but even more importantly requires something in between which young people can help to create themselves," Professor Hanson writes.

"If at present many young people do not seem to care about their health or view it as a low priority, perhaps they have not been given clear information about what they can do to optimise their health for themselves and their children. All societies owe their adolescents the chance to make their future healthier. Additionally, the political leaders who have committed to the new Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health must give adolescent health priority in national health strategies, plans, and budgets. Only these actions will enable the transformation required."

The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology series on Maternal Obesity was launched at the Power of Programming 2016 conference in Munich today (13 October).

Each of the four papers in the Series tackles a different aspect of the challenge. The first paper (Poston et al.) explores trends in the global prevalence of obesity among women and the adverse consequences for their reproductive health and the outcome of their pregnancy, especially in those countries least able to accommodate associated health-care costs. The authors call for larger studies to determine the scale of complications in these countries, which may not be prepared to manage the increasing burden on healthcare resources, and for an international drive to reduce obesity in women of reproductive age.

The second paper (Ma et al.) focuses on the clinical management of women with obesity, especially during pregnancy when the risks of conditions such as pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure and gestational diabetes are major concerns. There are also consequences for the baby, with greater risks of stillbirth, obstructed labour and congenital abnormalities. Clinicians are increasingly realising that the problems of obesity can manifest even in early pregnancy, again directing attention to addressing the problem before conception and between pregnancies.

The third paper (Godfrey and Reynolds et al.) explores the range of effects that maternal obesity can have on the child including greater adiposity (fat tissue), increased risk of allergies and effects on brain and behavioural development, such as autism and ADHD. The authors discuss the results of studies into the mechanisms linking maternal obesity to these adverse outcomes in their children, particularly epigenetic processes by which aspects of parental (both mothers and fathers) lifestyle can affect the way the baby's genes operate during development. These can change the person's responses to the challenges of, for example, living in an 'obesogenic' environment.

The final paper (Hanson et al.) suggests that the focus of interventions needs to be redirected to the preconception or post-partum periods of parents' lives. This requires a top-down approach from policy makers and service providers to improve the opportunities for young people, especially those in at risk groups, to lead healthier lives. But this alone may not be enough, the experts say. In addition, there is a need for a broader social movement that generates bottom-up mobilisation of communities and individuals, to create a demand for such services and opportunities. Engaging future parents in leading healthier lives will not only promote their health later, but will give their children a healthier start to life.

University of Southampton

Related Obesity Articles:

Obesity is in the eye of the beholder
Doctors have a specific definition of what it means to be overweight or obese, but in the social world, gender, race and generation matter a lot for whether people are judged as 'thin enough' or 'too fat.'
Type 2 diabetes and obesity -- what do we really know?
Social and economic factors have led to a dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes and obesity around the world.
Three in 4 don't know obesity causes cancer
Three out of four (75 percent) people in the UK are unaware of the link between obesity and cancer, according to a new Cancer Research UK report published today.
Obesity on the rise in Indonesia
Obesity is on the rise in Indonesia, one of the largest studies of the double burden of malnutrition in children has revealed.
Obesity rates are not declining in US youth
A clear and significant increase in obesity continued from 1999 through 2014, according to an analysis of data on United States children and adolescents age 2 to 19 years.
How does the environment affect obesity?
Researchers will be examining how agricultural and food processing practices may affect brown fat activity directly or indirectly.
Obesity Day to highlight growing obesity epidemic in Europe
The growing obesity epidemic, which is predicted to affect more than half of all European citizens by 2030, will be the focus of European Obesity Day to be held on May 21.
Understanding obesity from the inside out
Researchers developed a new laboratory method that allowed them to identify GABA as a key player in the complex brain processes that control appetite and metabolism.
Epigenetic switch for obesity
Obesity can sometimes be shut down.
Immunological Aspects of Obesity
This FASEB Conference focuses on the interactions between obesity and immune cells, focusing in particular on how inflammation in various organs influences obesity and obesity-related complications.

Related Obesity Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...