Childhood Obesity Prevention: A Womb with a View

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Pregnant woman on exercise ball. GJI/Tom Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Healthful adjustments to lifestyle practices almost never come too late.  There are studies to show impressive improvements in health and function in octogenarians who start to exercise, for example.  But even so, the earlier the better.  And with regard to childhood obesity prevention, earlier may be even earlier than most of us think. 

study in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal examined lifestyle practices in a cohort of over 14,000 women who had a baby during the study period.

  The women were free of any known chronic disease.

The researchers’ principal focus was gestational diabetes.  They noted a marked reduction in the incidence of gestational diabetes in women who avoided tobacco, exercised routinely, ate well, or had a normal BMI.  But here’s the punch line: the frequency of gestational diabetes was more than 80% lower in women who had all four of these factors in their favor than in those who had none.  Don’t smoke, eat well, be active, and by virtue of eating well and being active, control your weight- and your risk of a fairly common, and rather ominous condition of pregnancy declines more than 80%.

That lifestyle practices can reduce chronic disease risk to a stunning degree is not news to me.  In fact, it’s the principal theme around which my career is organized.  It’s the topic of my most recent book. 

But the extension of this principle to pregnancy is of singular importance, because all of us start out in a womb with a view.

  Specifically, the womb in which we incubate has a view of our mother’s health and lifestyle.  Maternal health during pregnancy has significant implications for the health of the fetus, and newborn.  There are many details to this story, but for our purposes here, these few will do: (1) dietary practices during pregnancy begin to influence the taste preferences of the fetus; (2) maternal obesity during pregnancy can increase the risk of future obesity in the baby; (3) gestational diabetes is associated with increased risks of everything from congenital anomalies to obesity and diabetes in the baby.

All of which indicates that the view from the womb of maternal health and lifestyle is very intimate, indeed.  This, in turn, highlights an important opportunity.

Healthful lifestyle practices are important to us all.  They are especially important to pregnant women because they can directly impact the likelihood of a condition that threatens the health of mother and baby alike.  But in addition, an expectant mother’s attention to the same short list of lifestyle factors with profound implications for her own health can offer her baby the greatest of all day birthday presents: a much enhanced probability of good health.

We all get our start in a womb with a view to the health and lifestyle of our mothers.  The prevention of childhood obesity, its complications, and other adversities can start there, too.

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