'Bad habits start in the womb'

Study finds that children of mothers who smoke or are overweight during pregnancy have higher risk of childhood obesity.

November 15, 2011 17:02
1 minute read.
women smoking

women smoking_311. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

Determining the future health of a child may have more to do with their mother's health behaviors during pregnancy than with genetics, a recent study has discovered. Researchers found that smoking during pregnancy and/or mothers who were overweight around the time of giving birth have a significant effect on the weight of children during middle and late childhood.

The study, conducted by the University of Montreal, analyzed data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. Between 1998 and 2006, the height and weight of 1,957 children was measured annually from the age of five months to eight years old to determine their body mass index (BMI). From the information, researchers identified three trajectory groups: Children with low but stable BMI, those with moderate BMI and children whose BMI was considered high-rising.

"We discovered the trajectories of all three groups were similar until the children were about two and a half," Laura Pryor, the study's lead author, said. "Around that point the BMIs of the high-rising group of children began to take off. By the time these children moved into middle childhood, more than 50 percent of them were obese according to international criteria."

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Mothers who had smoked or were overweight around the time of birth were risk factors that represent increased probabilities for their children being overweight later in life, but were not direct causes. However, those two factors were found to be much more important in determining the effects of perinatal behavior than other criteria studied, such as the child's weight at birth.

The study points to evidence that life inside the womb has important influences on a child's life after birth. More studies need to be conducted to determine more specific correlations to childhood obesity and points to a need for better ways to inform at-risk families to prevent the passing on of ill health through generations, Pryor said.

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