With more than 17 percent of South African children between the ages of one and nine being overweight (according to the Medical Research Council of South Africa) we are clearly approaching a crisis. This figure is higher than the global rate, and only marginally lower than the numbers in the States. Cold comfort indeed. Obesity, as if you need reminding, leads to all manner of ills including increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and more.
Generally, there is no correlation between the size of a child under the age of two, and the size she’ll be as an adult – with one exception. Babies who are 20 percent (or more) over the weight they should be for their height and skeletal structure have a significant chance of being obese as adults.
So what is the link (if any) between fat parents and fat children? If you are obese yourself, are you likely to have an obese child?
Researchers at Yale have found that children of obese mothers, specifically those mothers who ate a high-fat diet during their third trimester, were more likely to have metabolic disorders, be obese, and develop diabetes. The study, published in January 2014 suggests that pregnant women can have a massive impact on the long-term health of their children by eating healthy and nutritious food, and staying at a healthy weight.
Other studies have shown that the feeding methods parents choose can greatly affect their baby’s risk of becoming obese by the age of two. In a study involving 8 000 children, it was found that babies who were fed with formula during their first six months were two-and-a-half times more likely to be obese by the time they were two compared to those babies who were breast fed. Babies who were breast fed AND given formula were nearly twice as likely to become obese. The same study found that starting your baby on solids before four months raised the risk by 40 percent and putting your baby to bed with a bottle increased the risk by 30 percent.
And of course, children who are obese, are likely to be obese adults, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The odds are stacked even more against children who are born to two obese parents – not only are they likely to be genetically disposed to obesity, they are learning bad eating habits and are most probably generally surrounded by unhealthy food.
So what can be done about this dire state of affairs?
– If you are pregnant, make healthy food choices.
– If you have a baby, if at all possible, breast feed for the first six months of your baby’s life. If this isn’t possible (women have to work, after all!) take cues from your baby: if he pushes the bottle away or turns his head away, don’t necessarily put it back in his mouth – perhaps he is done eating. And if your baby is fussing and crying, don’t automatically assume she is hungry and pop a bottle in her mouth.
– And if you have young children (and even if you don’t!) make healthy food and lifestyle choices. You will be protecting yourself and your children from a lifetime of ill health.