What is causing the rise of childhood obesity? Is it nature or nurture?
A new study from the University of Bristol suggests that a high BMI (Body Mass Index) of the mother is not a major cause of a high BMI in their children long term.
It is known that a higher maternal BMI before or during pregnancy is associated with a higher BMI in the infant’s birthweight. A study from the University of Bristol was recently published in BMC Medicine, using the data from two longitudinal studies looking at BMI of children at birth, at ages 1 and 4, and again at ages 10 and 15. They found a moderate causal effect between maternal BMI and birth weight of child, but not a strong causal effect in the older age groups. Essentially, women who are heavier at the beginning of pregnancy does not cause children to be heavier as they get older.
There are many studies looking at the genetic component of obesity. I am hopeful that someday we have the capability to do something with this information either from a pharmacological standpoint, or simply identifying those at high risk. But until we reach that point, the majority of our focus should be on the environmental factors that are playing a role in the rapid rise of childhood obesity. This is not a simple answer, there are so many factors that play a role in our children’s development.
A recent study showed that children in the Midwest have the highest BMI, and children in the West have the lowest. This is beneficial to know, but what do we do with this information? Is this related to eating habits, physical activity, socioeconomic factors, weather, etc.? We seem to be just starting to understand the complexity of what is causing obesity in our children. I do not see the benefit in trying to simplify this problem by putting blame on one specific aspect, whether that is diet, activity or genetics. Obviously, it is a combination of all of these, and more. And we continue to trend in the wrong direction, from 2019 to 2020 the national rate of obesity in ages 2 to 19 increased over 3%. I am hopeful that we continue to pursue better answers and work toward intervention as early as possible, as it is so much easier to prevent obesity than to treat obesity.
University of Bristol. “Lifestyle more likely to affect a child’s BMI then the weight of their mother.” Science-Daily, 1 February 2022