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Obesity Rate Twice as High in Surgically Delivered Children

May 24, 2012 -- Childhood obesity and cesarean delivery rates have skyrocketed over the last few decades, and intriguing new research suggests the two might be related.

Birth by C-section was associated with a two-fold increase in obesity at age 3 in the study by investigators from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.

Surgical delivery has recently been linked to an increased risk for allergy and asthma in children, but research examining the impact of C-section delivery on weight in childhood has been mixed.

Double the Obesity Risk

In the newly published study, investigators followed 1,255 children from birth until after their third birthdays, during which time 16% of children delivered by C-section became obese, compared to 7.5% of children delivered vaginally.

The association held even after the researchers considered the impact of known risk factors for childhood obesity, including the mother's weight, how long she breastfed, and the child's birth weight.

If future research confirms that C-section delivery is directly linked to early obesity, the implications are clear, says Harvard Medical School assistant professor of pediatrics Susanna Y. Huh, MD, MPH, who led the study.

"One in three children in the U.S. is now delivered by cesarean section," she tells WebMD. "If surgical delivery is a risk factor for child obesity, this would be yet another reason to avoid cesarean sections that are not medically necessary."

As for how C-sections may be linked to obesity, the researchers mentioned some possible explanations, but at this point they are all just theories. The link will require more research to determine if there is an actual cause and effect.

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