What causes childhood obesity? Mason College of Health and Human Services researchers Panagiota Kitsantas, Lisa R. Pawloski, and Kathleen F. Gaffney believe that obesity risk factors begin even before a child is conceived.
Pediatric obesity affects one out of every seven low-income, preschool-age children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To understand its root causes, Mason researchers examined the body mass index (BMI) of white and Hispanic women before they became pregnant and compared it with their children’s BMI at ages two and four.
Using nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, which followed thousands of children from birth through kindergarten entry, the researchers found that both white and Hispanic women who were overweight or obese prior to pregnancy were more likely to have children who were overweight or obese as toddlers and preschoolers than women who had a normal prepregnancy BMI.
In the cohort, 41.6 percent of Hispanic mothers and 34.8 percent of white mothers were overweight or obese prior to pregnancy. When compared with children born to Hispanic mothers with a normal prepregnancy BMI, preschoolers born to overweight Hispanic mothers were more than twice as likely to be overweight, while preschoolers born to overweight white mothers were approximately 1.4 times more likely to be overweight.
“This study is exciting, as it clearly shows a link between a mother’s prepregnancy weight and the weight of her child,” says Pawloski. “Therefore, prevention of childhood obesity begins earlier than we ever thought before. Interventions should be tailored that way.”