The obesity epidemic, especially as it relates to children, is nothing to kid about. Seventeen percent of children and teens in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, putting them at risk for adult problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
There are many factors that contribute to this growing problem, and there’s now research to suggest pregnancy may be an especially influential time in determining the risk a child faces of becoming obese.
Here are 6 mom-to-be habits researchers say may influence the trajectory of weight gain in the next generation.
Bad Habit #6
Watching TV during mealtimes
Pregnant women who watch TV while eating are more likely to continue that habit during their baby’s feedings, which is tied to a childhood obesity risk for newborns later in life, according to a new study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada. TV watching during meals is discouraged because it is associated with poorer quality diet, and mothers may miss the subtle cues that indicate their baby is full, said study author and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the New York University School of Medicine, Dr. Mary Jo Messito. Though this is preliminary research, the study’s findings are a great reminder that distracted eating leads to unhealthy habits like overeating and ignoring satiety cues. Pamper yourself by eating at a set dinner table; your body and your baby will thank you.
Bad Habit #5
Regularly eating red meat
In a recent commentary published in the journal Evidence-Based Nursing, author Philippa Middleton (not to be confused with Duchess Kate’s hot sister) warns of a link between regular red meat consumption and a higher rate of gestational diabetes in pregnant women, which poses risks to the health of both the mother and baby. Women with the highest intake of red meat showed an risk elevated by as much as 49 percent! A separate study in the journal Diabetes Care found that a child’s risk of obesity increased dramatically among those whose mothers had developed gestational diabetes. Middleton hypothesizes that excess fat and additives present in red- and processed meats (as opposed to the iron) may be to blame for the elevated risk. The good news is that non-meat sources of protein seem to have the opposite effect. Middleton notes: “Just over half a serving of nuts per day can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by 40%.”
Bad Habit #4
Gaining too much weight
Mothers who gain excessive weight over the course of a pregnancy may permanently affect energy balance mechanisms like appetite control in their offspring, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine. Researchers found 39.4 percent of children born to women who gained more than 40 pounds to be obese. According to the Institute of Medicine, recommended weight gain during pregnancy is 25 to 35 pounds for normal weight women (BMI 18.5-24.9).
Bad Habit #3
Not gaining enough weight
Call it the Goldilocks dilemma. Researchers say gaining too little weight during pregnancy may also increase the risk of having an overweight or obese child. The large-scale study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that women with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement before pregnancy who gained less than the Institute of Medicine’s recommended amount of 25 to 35 pounds were 63 percent more likely to have a child who became overweight or obese.
Bad Habit #2
Not considering your antidepressants
Research from McMaster University suggests that maternal use of a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, may predispose infants to fat accumulation around the liver, type 2 diabetes and obesity later in life. The study authors note that the findings do not suggest women should avoid taking antidepressants during pregnancy, only that there may be associated risks. More studies need to be done to verify these conclusions, but if you have concerns, you should consult with your doctor.
Bad Habit #1
Not sharing your traumatic stress with your doctor
A study from Aarhus University published in PloS ONE indicates that unborn children who are exposed to severe stress levels have an increased risk of becoming overweight or developing obesity as adults. Young men whose mothers had been exposed to bereavement during pregnancy showed an increased risk for obesity, the degree of which varied depending on the closeness of the relationship the mother had with the deceased. If the woman had lost her husband, her son had twice the risk of developing overweight in adulthood. Though not all associations are clear, the study underscores the fact that emotional well-being is just as important as physical health and the importance of being open with your doctor. Sharing your emotional as well as physical stress allows you and your doctor to work closely together to ensure the health of your child.