July 6, 2004 -- The fight to stop child obesity begins before a child is born, a new study shows.
Children are twice as likely to be obese if their mother was obese during pregnancy, reports Robert C. Whitaker, MD, MPH. Whitaker, now with Mathematica Policy Research Inc. in Princeton, N.J., performed the study while at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
"Maternal obesity in early pregnancy more than doubles the risk of [a child's] obesity at 2 to 4 years of age," Whitaker writes in the July issue of Pediatrics.
To be defined as obese, these kids had to be seriously overweight. They are not just heavier than average -- they had more body fat than 95% of other kids their age.
Whitaker studied data on nearly 8,500 children from low-income households enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children -- commonly known as the WIC program.
By the age 4, one in four children born to obese mothers was obese. That's true for fewer than one in 10 kids born to normal-weight mothers.
Viewed one way, the data show that kids born to obese mothers may be in trouble from birth. But Whitaker stresses a more optimistic view.
"The time before a mother conceives, during her pregnancy, and in the early years of her child's life may provide important opportunities to prevent obesity," he writes.
He notes that the WIC program is already taking steps to intervene. It now allows income-eligible children to get WIC help if they are born to mothers who were obese during pregnancy.
SOURCE: Whitaker, R.C. Pediatrics, July 2004; vol 114: pp e29-e36.