Moms Underestimate Influence on Kids' Obesity

Filed under: In The News, Pregnancy Health, Health

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Moms have a big effect on obesity in children. Credit: Getty Images

Sure, you know your behavior influences what your kids do -- that's why you don't regale them with tales of your college drug haze or those one-night stands you had in your 20s. But did you know your weight has a major influence on whether your kids will one day become obese -- perhaps sooner, rather than later?

Most moms in the United States underestimate their ability to help prevent obesity in their children, according to a recent survey by HealthyWomen, a leading women's health website.

Studies have shown that moms have a greater effect on their child's weight than dads. Yet, although 87 percent of women believe a parent's obesity influences a child's risk of becoming obese, only 28 percent of those surveyed "assign the responsibility to themselves," the HealthyWomen WomenTALK survey finds.

Further, recent research shows that roughly one in five women are obese when they become pregnant. But just 11 percent of women surveyed say they realize a child's risk of becoming obese more than doubles if the mother is obese during her first trimester of pregnancy.

Forty-six percent of respondents were unsure of the effect of maternal obesity. Studies have confirmed higher risks to newborns and long-term health complications to children are higher for obese women with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more, according to the survey.

Mothers are commonly viewed as role models for eating behavior and serve as "gatekeepers" of food, HealthyWomen executive director Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, says in a news release.

"From an early age, children tend to eat the same foods as their parents, especially mothers, so exposure to nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables is not only setting a good example, but also positioning your child on a lifelong course of good health," she says

The WomenTALK survey queried 1,037 women in an effort to understand obesity and its impact on women and their families, in addition to the influences and relationships that affect obesity in women.

In other findings, while most women understand that obesity yields a greater risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, less than one-third of those surveyed recognize the increased risk of developing color cancer, gallstones and breast cancer.

"Women need to be their own advocates in the fight against all of these diseases and understanding the influence that friends and family have on the likelihood that they will become obese is part of what's slowing them down," Cahill says. "We need to help women understand that they have the opportunity to positively wield their influence by taking charge of their own nutrition and physical activity habits."

The study found that although most women surveyed are aware they have a greater likelihood of becoming obese if those around them are obese, most did not recognize the impact a friend may have on weight. However, studies have shown you have a much greater chance of becoming obese if you have a friend (57 percent), sibling (40 percent) or spouse (37 percent) who became obese, according to HealthyWomen.

"Empowering and educating women is the best way we know to break the cycle of obesity and promote healthy habits for the life of any woman and her loved ones," Cahill says.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.