Mother’s lifestyle has impact on child’s health

Dr Maxwell Ademeyi. -
Dr Maxwell Ademeyi. -

Maxwell Ademeyi

THE DEVELOPMENT of chronic lifestyle diseases may not, after all, develop in adulthood. There is evidence that the seed of many lifestyle disease starts as early as childhood days when toddlers, schoolchildren and even teenagers indulge in unhealthy lifestyles.

More concerning are indications that the template for such diseases can also start from the mother’s lifestyle choices. While we complain about obese children and blame them for eating too much, little do we consider that parents also play a role in the situation these children find themselves – what we give and provide them, what we allow and encourage them to eat, and, most importantly, what lifestyle they adopt. The eating habit and weight of their mothers before and during pregnancy do have tremendous impacts.

A woman's lifestyle before conceiving has significant effects on her offspring, Obesity, bad diet and smoking can affect a baby even before conception. A child's development can also be affected by weight gain in pregnancy. Women who displayed lifestyle risks are more likely to have a fat child. Almost half of women of child-bearing age are overweight or obese.

Women who are overweight or lead a poor lifestyle before pregnancy are nearly five times as likely to have a child who is fat. Even before a woman conceives, her choices can have a startling impact with obesity, smoking and vitamin D deficiency caused by a bad diet among the risks.

Together with excessive weight gain in pregnancy and failing to breastfeed, a child’s development can be affected dramatically.

Researchers found that women who displayed lifestyle risks before, during and shortly after pregnancy were 4.65 times more likely to have an overweight child – with 47 per cent more fat mass – by the age of six.

Those who displayed four out of five types of "lifestyle risks" – obesity before conception, low vitamin D levels, smoking during pregnancy, excess pregnancy weight gain, and failing to breastfeeding for more than one month – were also likely to have six-year-old children with 47 per cent more fat mass than those who had displayed none of the risks.

Health programmes which wait until children start school may perhaps be too late. It will be even more beneficial if earlier interventions are made focusing on the child-bearing age when women who are having children are encouraged to live a healthier lifestyle as this has been shown to have serious effects on childhood obesity.

Early life may be a critical period when appetite and regulation of energy balance are programmed, which has lifelong consequences for the risk of gaining excess weight.

A study done recently in the UK showed that almost half of women of child-bearing age are overweight or obese and more than 15 per cent of pregnant women are deemed to be dangerously overweight. The same may hold true for our population given the fact that our obesity level is much higher than the UK (as TT is rated as the third fattest country in the world per capita, behind Kuwait and the US).

The women in these studies were tracked before, during and after their pregnancy and the children, who were all born between 1998 and 2003, were given regular health checks.

The results show that at age four, children with four or five of the risk factors were 3.99 times more likely to be overweight than children who had experienced none, and fat mass was, on average, 19 per cent higher.

By age six, the risk increased so that these children were 4.65 times more likely to be overweight or obese and fat mass was 47 per cent higher.

These differences were not explained by other factors, such as the children’s quality of diet or physical activity levels.

Several other recent studies have delved deeper into the reasons that a wild lifestyle before conception can come back to haunt future children.

There is now "overwhelming evidence" that poor health can be recorded in a father’s sperm or a mother’s eggs and transmitted on to their future children.

In the past scientists thought that the sequence of two parents’ DNA, itself set by their own parents, effectively predetermined every aspect of a baby’s nature and make-up.

But the latest research has led to a more subtle understanding of genetics, which accepts that tiny changes are made to an individual’s genes by smoking, diet and other environmental factors that we come across in everyday life.

Those epigenetic changes can be passed on to the next generation via the egg or sperm.

Previously, people used to think that lifestyle didn’t matter, because a child represented a new beginning, with a fresh start. The reality is we can now say with great certainty that the child doesn’t quite start from scratch – they already carry over a legacy of factors from their parents’ experiences that can shape development in the foetus and after birth.

Depending on the situation, we can give our children a burden before they’ve even started life. It is therefore a wise approach if we can focus on our women of child-bearing age, and put programmes and policies in place to encourage healthy living, healthy lifestyle and healthy weights before and during conception. This will not only benefit the mothers but have a positive impact on the health of our younger generations, with attendant reduction on the future burden of disease.

Contact Dr Maxwell on 3631807 or 7575411


"Mother’s lifestyle has impact on child’s health"

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