FRIDAY, July 30, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- The risk for childhood obesity may begin even before a child is born, say researchers who found that women who are overweight or obese before becoming pregnant are more likely to have overweight or obese toddlers and preschoolers.
Hispanic preschoolers born to overweight/obese mothers were twice as likely to be overweight or obese compared to their peers who were born to Hispanic moms with healthy prepregnancy weights, the study authors found.
Among white preschoolers, the risk of overweight/obesity was 1.4 times higher for those whose mothers were overweight/obese before pregnancy compared with those born to mothers with healthy weights.
In both cases, those children who were overweight or obese at the age of 2 were also more likely to continue to be so at age 4, the research team found.
"This study adds to the body of current research that points out how important it is for women of childbearing age to develop lifestyle habits that promote a healthy weight before they become pregnant," study co-author Panagiota Kitsantas, an associate professor in the department of global and community health at Mason College of Health and Human Services, said in a George Mason University news release.
"These early habits may have a big influence, not only on their own health and well-being, but also on that of their future children," Kitsantas added.
The finding was reported online in advance of publication in an upcoming print edition of the European Journal of Pediatrics.
"This study is exciting, as it clearly shows a link between a mother's prepregnancy weight and the weight of her child," co-author Lisa R. Pawloski, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Global and Community Health, noted in the news release. "Therefore, prevention of childhood obesity begins earlier than we ever thought before. Interventions should be tailored that way, particularly among specific ethnicities, as these data clearly show."
The study further revealed that children who were never breast-fed also faced a higher risk for being overweight or obese at age 2, among both Hispanics and whites. Among white children, having a high birth weight, being from a relatively poor household, and having parents who smoke also increased the risk for being obese.
The data was drawn from a representative sample of white and Hispanic children enrolled in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, a birth-through-kindergarten program that tracks thousands of children throughout the United States. Based on body mass index readings, which take into account a person's height and weight, the authors found that nearly 42 percent of the Hispanic mothers of the enrolled children had been overweight or obese before they became pregnant. That figure was almost 35 percent among white mothers.
For more on childhood obesity, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.