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Obese Before Birth?

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Experts have long thought that certain genetic codes heighten the risk of obesity. But can the risks even be seen during gestation?

fat baby boy

Vivian Manning-Schaffel: It's quite possible, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The piece cites a recent study conducted by Dr. Elsie M. Taveras, an assistant professor of population medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Taveras' team studied 1,826 mother-child pairs from pregnancy through the child's first five years of life -- and was able to identify "more than a dozen factors in the prenatal period through age five that can increase the likelihood of later obesity," Dr. Taveras says.

Even more incredible, researchers discovered that obese three-year-olds already show signs of the type of inflammation that is linked to heart disease in adults. Asheley Cockrell Skinner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, was involved in a study published in Pediatrics. The Times cited these findings: "Obese children as young as age three had higher levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation that is linked to heart disease in adults. C-reactive protein levels can rise for a number of reasons, and about 15 to 20 percent of children have above-normal levels. But among obese three-year-olds, 45 percent had elevated levels. It's not clear yet whether this inflammation remains high in obese children or causes any long-lasting harm."

Many obesity risks probably begin even before the mother gets pregnant. For example, if a woman gets pregnant when she's already overweight, or if she contracts gestational diabetes, she's at an increased risk of having either a very small or very large baby -- both of which increase the risk of obesity for the child later in life. Another study cited in the Times piece found that seven-year-old children born to women who gained more weight than recommended during pregnancy had a 48 percent greater chance of being overweight than the offspring of women who had met weight guidelines.

Hopefully, these findings can give experts a leg-up on how to effect change. "These things set up children for a lifelong risk of obesity," says Skinner. "These factors don't just make them overweight; they become barriers to helping them change when they get older. It becomes the story that never ends."


next: 12-Year-Old Kid Collects Vacuums!
1 comments so far | Post a comment now
adelaide fitness March 9, 2010, 2:59 PM

wow, very interesting findings, it will be interesting also to see how this is applied in real life!


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