Lifestyle of Mothers Plays Important Role in Obesity Risk for Their Children |


Lead by example to keep children healthy

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal shows an association between American mothers’ adherence to healthy lifestyle practices and risk of obesity in their children.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Space Coast Daily is delighted to welcome Dr. Christopher Johnson as a guest contributor on issues of child health and well-being. With 35 years of experience practicing pediatrics, pediatric critical care (intensive care), and pediatric emergency room care he is committed to educating parents on how best to meet the needs of the ill and injured child in today’s often confusing and complex healthcare system. In this article, Dr. Johnson reports on a study that looks at the impact of parental lifestyle on childhood obesity. 

— Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

Everyone knows obesity rates among children, like those of adults, have been rising for years. There are some indications this increase may have leveled off in children, which is encouraging, but we need to do more than that. We need to actually reverse the trend.

Because obesity in childhood is closely linked to obesity later in life there has been extensive ongoing research about how to intervene to head off this problem. An interesting recent study shows how mothers can help in ways other than merely pestering their children to put down the bag of chips and get off the couch. The article is in the British Medical Journal but it’s about Americans.

The investigators used a prospective cohort study design. That means they compared two groups of subjects by following them forward in time. That design is stronger than a retrospective design, which looks backward in time and is more prone to bias.

They compared a very large number of child and mother pairs — nearly 25,000. The ages of the children ranged from 9 to 14 years and they were followed for a median of 5 years. That’s a pretty long observation time.

If parents lead by example in adhering to 5 markers of healthy lifestyle: good body mass index, healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking, and light to moderate alcohol intake, their children are more likely than not to follow.

None of the children were obese at the start of the study. Overall, about 5% of the children became obese during the study period. The key finding was that the children were significantly less likely to become obese if their mothers adhered to 5 markers of healthy lifestyle: good body mass index, healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking, and light to moderate alcohol intake. There is, of course, a genetic component to obesity. This could have affected the body mass index component. But the other things are all environmental factors, not genetic.

The authors’ sensible conclusion is this:

“Our study indicates that adherence to a healthy lifestyle in mothers during their offspring’s childhood and adolescence is associated with a substantially reduced risk of obesity in the children. These findings highlight the potential benefits of implementing family or parental based multifactorial interventions to curb the risk of childhood obesity.”

In other words, if parents lead by example their children are more likely than not to follow.


Christopher Johnson, MD

Dr. Christopher Johnson received his undergraduate education in history and religion at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1974. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1978 from Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota, then trained in general pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, followed by training in pediatric infectious diseases, hematology research, and pediatric critical care medicine at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine. Dr. Johnson is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in general pediatrics and in pediatric critical care medicine and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Johnson, who has been named to a list of  “The 50 Best Mayo Clinic Doctors — Ever,” devotes his time to practicing pediatric critical care as President of Pediatric Intensive Care Associates, P.C., as Medical Director of the PICU for CentraCare Health Systems, and to writing about medicine for general readers. His popular website/blog and four books provide a wealth of information and answers to practical questions related to child health issues.


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