Family on Bike

Sharing Obesity in Families

Every one of us is formed in a family and obesity, more often than not, is shared in families across generations. A big part of this is because roughly 70% of obesity risk is inherited. Beyond that, two recent studies add to the understanding that a mother’s health before and during pregnancy plays a role in a child’s risk for obesity. And then, shared family experiences play a role in shaping health-related behaviors.

At the recent Experimental Biology meeting, Youfa Wang and colleagues presented a systematic analysis of the strong relationship between obesity in parents and children. Across multiple countries, the association between obesity in parents and children is consistent, though it varies with the economic environment and other characteristics of parent and child.

Friday in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, Teresa Hiller and colleagues published a study of the relationship between a mother’s weight gain in pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and the risk of subsequent obesity in children born at a normal weight. They found that excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes significantly raised the risk of a child born at a normal weight eventually developing obesity.

In another recent study, published in Pediatric Obesity, Zoe Bider-Canfield and colleagues found that obesity before pregnancy, as well as excessive weight gain during pregnancy, were associated with increased risk of obesity for a child by the age of two.

So it should not surprise us that focusing on childhood obesity in isolation is not doing much to move the rising trend in childhood obesity into a downward trajectory. More attention is needed for helping whole families.

Publishing in Health Psychology, John Best and colleagues showed recently that family-based obesity care could have a significant impact on long-term weight maintenance and the dietary quality for both parent and child.

Healthy children require healthy mothers, healthy fathers, and healthy families. A focus on whole family health, grounded in the realities that families face, is needed.

Click here for the study by Hiller et al, here for the study by Bider-Canfield et al, and here for the study by Best et al.

Family on Bike, photograph © Señor Hans / flickr

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May 8, 2016

5 Responses to “Sharing Obesity in Families”

  1. May 08, 2016 at 10:37 am, Stephen Phillips said:

    “Of course, no one wants their children to suffer from illness, and most parents do absolutely everything they can to help their children live happy, healthy lives. At the same time, the histories of medicine and psychiatry are rife with examples of scientific theories that blamed mothers for a host of ills in their children—only to be later uncovered as bunk.”

    The above excerpt from THE NEW SCIENCE OF BLAMING MOMS is worth a read

    Stephen Phillips
    American Associations of Bariatric Counselors

    • May 08, 2016 at 5:40 pm, Ted said:

      Absolutely right, Stephen. Mothers and families living in poor health are in a poor position to ensure the health of their children. We can’t afford to continue ignoring the needs of whole families.

  2. May 08, 2016 at 3:25 pm, Amy Endrizal said:

    I just read with interest about a clinic-family obesity care program (familyPower) that had promising results to the family in the aggregate.

    It’s good to know that family-based programs can work to the benefit of both children and parents in the long term. The food environment can frustrate even the best intentions of maintaining healthy behaviors, and with evidence-based help, our families can be our best “buddy systems.”

    • May 08, 2016 at 5:38 pm, Ted said:

      Well said, Amy. Thanks!

  3. May 20, 2016 at 12:01 pm, Rhonda Witwer said:

    There is animal data suggesting that a particular type of fermentable fiber called resistant starch can help improve glycemic control in pregnancy. While additional research in pregnant women is needed, the animal study is a good start. One study was published in 2011 which found that #resistantstarch fed to a type 2 diabetic rats and improved glycemic control in both the mothers as well as the offspring. The mothers had improved insulin sensitivity and pancreatic beta cell mass, while the offspring had improved fasting glucose levels.

    Also important to know that the U.S. FDA is evaluating a health claim petition that resistant starch from high amylose corn helps to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, based upon 10 clinical studies showing improved insulin sensitivity. See for more information.