Mothers who follow five healthy habits may reduce the risk of obesity in children

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A Harvard study shows that a mother’s lifestyle has a large bearing on their children’s health

A new study led by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that children and adolescents whose mothers follow five healthy habits are 75 percent less likely to develop obesity when compared to children whose mothers don’t follow those habits. When the child is factored in, and both child and mother follow the healthy habits, the risk of obesity was 82 percent lower.

The five healthy habits are:

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Exercising regularly

  • Keeping a healthy body weight

  • Drinking alcohol only in moderation

  • Not smoking

“Our study was the first to demonstrate that an overall healthy lifestyle really outweighs any individual healthy lifestyle factors followed by mothers when it comes to lowering the risk of obesity in their children,” said Qi Sun, associate professor of Nutrition at Harvard and lead author of the study.

Twenty percent of children in the United States are obese, which increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic issues later in life.

Analyzing the study

In this study, the researchers focused on the effects a mother’s lifestyle had on a child between the ages of nine and 18. Data was collected from 24,289 children enrolled in the Growing Up Today Study.

The study found that 5.3 percent -- or 1,282 of the children -- developed obesity within a five-year follow-up period of the initial study. Some of the biggest factors in childhood obesity included smoking, maternal obesity, and physical inactivity.

Healthy habits were analyzed collectively and individually when it came to their effect on childhood obesity. Children of non-smoking mothers, for example, had a 31 percent lower risk of obesity compared to those with smoking mothers. Similarly, children of mothers who maintained a healthy body weight had a 56 percent lower risk of obesity than children of mothers who had an above average body mass index (BMI).

The study also found that mothers’ eating patterns weren’t a risk factor in a child’s obesity, most likely because children’s diets are influenced by a number of things, including physical activity and school lunches.

Many of the mothers involved in the study didn’t describe themselves as heavy drinkers, so the study couldn’t determine the effects of high alcohol consumption on obesity risk. However, for those that consumed low and moderate levels of alcohol, the risk of obesity was much lower for their children.

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