Moms mat­ter, dads don’t, when it comes to chil­dren’s weight

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - OPINION - By Steinar Brand­slet

When moth­ers lose weight, their chil­dren slim down too. When moth­ers are less ac­tive, chil­dren grow big­ger. Dad’s choices ap­pear to play less of a role, ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­search

Over­weight and obe­sity of­ten con­tinue for gen­er­a­tions in fam­i­lies. The links can be ge­netic but are also re­lated to fam­ily re­la­tion­ships and lifestyle habits.

“Par­ents have a ma­jor im­pact on their chil­dren’s health and lifestyle. Be­hav­iours that lead to obe­sity are eas­ily trans­ferred from par­ent to child,” said Marit Naess, who is the lab­o­ra­tory man­ager at the HUNT Re­search Cen­tre and a doc­toral can­di­date at the Nor­we­gian Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy, NTNU.

But how do par­ents’ lifestyle changes af­fect their chil­dren’s body mass in­dex (BMI)? Very dif­fer­ently it turns out, de­pend­ing on whether it’s mother or fa­ther we are talk­ing about.

If the mother loses weight, it also af­fects the chil­dren.

“If mom drops two to six ki­los, this can be linked to lower BMI in the kids,” said Kirsti Kvaloy, a re­searcher for HUNT, a lon­gi­tu­di­nal pop­u­la­tion health study in the for­mer NordTron­de­lag County of Nor­way.

The re­searchers found no sig­nif­i­cant link if the fa­ther loses weight, although it may be pos­si­ble to read a ten­dency in the same di­rec­tion.

The re­sults largely cor­re­spond to sim­i­lar stud­ies in In­dia and Fin­land, but the Finns found that the heav­i­est fa­thers also af­fected their daugh­ters’ weight.

And the dif­fer­ences be­tween the im­pacts of the fa­ther’s and mother’s lifestyle changes don’t end there.

“Moth­ers whose ac­tiv­ity lev­els drop as their chil­dren are grow­ing up are linked to chil­dren with higher BMI in ado­les­cence,” said Naess.

If the mother does not stay phys­i­cally ac­tive, the chil­dren be­come big­ger across the board. The fa­ther’s choices had no sig­nif­i­cant im­pact here ei­ther. Less ac­tive fa­thers were not linked to higher BMI in their chil­dren.

Ac­cord­ing to Naess and Kvaloy, a lot sug­gests that moms are still the ones who are pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for plan­ning ac­tiv­i­ties in the home and per­haps for food choices too, although this study did not ex­am­ine these spec­u­la­tions.

The mother-child link may of­ten re­volve around the mother want­ing to lose weight. She makes small changes in diet and liv­ing habits that in­volve the whole fam­ily.

This no­tion is re­in­forced by the fact that the re­searchers found no cor­re­spond­ing re­la­tion­ship when par­ents lose a great deal of weight. This kind of weight change is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with ill­ness or more ex­ten­sive di­ets that do not in­volve oth­ers in the fam­ily.

The re­sults are quite clear also when tak­ing ed­u­ca­tion level into ac­count.

“On av­er­age, BMI is ed­u­ca­tion com­pared to


But ma­ter­nal weight re­duc­tion seems to wield in­flu­ence on chil­dren’s BMI in fam­i­lies with ed­u­ca­tion.

The study in­cluded 4,424 chil­dren and par­ents who re­ported to the HUNT Study. Re­searchers fol­lowed changes in weight and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity over eleven years. One re­cent pos­i­tive change is that peo­ple have gen­er­ally be­come more phys­i­cally ac­tive dur­ing their leisure time. The re­sults of the study were re­cently pub­lished in BMJ Open.

lower in ones with fam­i­lies with higher less ed­u­ca­tion,” said

greater higher

Per­haps the link be­tween a mom’s be­hav­iour and weight and that of her chil­dren is due in part to her mak­ing small changes in meals and habits that in­volve the whole fam­ily. Photo: Colour­box

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