Obese mothers ‘at ten times the risk of having obese daughters’

This story was widely reported everywhere on Tuesday – I woke up to see the story on BBC Breakfast news. The study was conducted in Plymouth and the findings were published in the International Journal of obesity. 226 families were studied, which some other researchers have cautioned is a small number. The key conclusions were:

1) Obese mothers are ten times more likely to have obese daughters than those of a healthy weight.
2) Obese fathers are six times more likely to have obese sons than those of a healthy weight.

The really interesting things about this study are:
1) The impact within same gender relationships, which didn’t seem to occur across genders. So, boys mirrored their fathers and girls mirrored their mothers.

2) The quite dramatic difference between the normal weight and obese parents and children. Just 3% of boys with normal weight fathers were obese vs 18% of boys with obese fathers. Just 4% of girls with normal weight mothers were obese vs 41% of girls with obese mothers. These are big differences!

3) This, of course, opens up the nature/nurture debate. This is often debated at obesity conferences – is obesity in the genes? Is it picked up from parents’ behaviour? As with the nature/nurture debate, the answer is not 100:0 either way. Both genetics and behaviour play a part, but this does seem to suggest that nurture is playing a huge part. Girls will understandably look at what mum eats and pick up good, or bad, habits and boys will look to dad in a similar way.

The key message for parents from this? You have an additional responsibility to your child (particularly to your same gender child) for their health and weight, as well as for your own. Don’t get them into bad low calorie/low fat/high carb/high processed food habits early on. Get their taste buds used to eating real food – meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, fruit, veg/salad, whole grains etc. If you do this from the earliest age possible they will not acquire the taste for junk in the first place and you will have far less difficulty getting them to eat good food. It’s the toughest job in the world being a parent – but you need to rise to all the challenges.

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