Genes May Drive Child Obesity

Children likely to be overweight at 6 if mom is, too

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FRIDAY, Feb. 4, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- A mother's love may be unconditional, but her genes can be a burden for some children, research suggests.

By the time they're 6 years old, children of overweight moms are 15 times more likely to be obese than children of lean mothers, says a study by researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

The findings demonstrate the impact of genetics on childhood obesity and suggest that obesity prevention efforts should target such children at risk -- ideally by the time they're 4.

The study appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers tracked 70 children from infancy until they were 6 years old. Of those children, 33 had overweight moms and 37 had lean mothers. During their first two years of life, the children showed little difference in weight and body composition.

But that changed by age 4, when greater overall body weight was noted on children whose mothers were overweight. By the time they were 6, these children had both greater body weight and more body fat than the children of lean mothers.

"We found dramatic increases in body fat between the ages of 3 and 6. This suggests that some genes controlling body weight may become active during this period," lead researcher Dr. Robert I. Berkowitz, chairman of child and adolescent psychiatry and executive director of the Behavioral Health Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a prepared statement.

"This research has important implications for preventing obesity. It points to an important target group -- children whose mothers are overweight," study co-author Dr. Virginia A. Stallings, director of the Nutrition Center in the division of gastroenterology and nutrition, said in a prepared statement.

"There could be greater benefits to focusing intense prevention efforts toward these children, rather than to the entire pediatric population," Stallings said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about dealing with weight problems in children.

SOURCE: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, news release, Jan. 24, 2005

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