If you could wave a magic wand and cure one health problem, I'm sure that obesity would be on your short list.
Obesity is the root cause of dozens of other major health issues, including -- but not limited to -- heart disease, diabetes, asthma, depression, cholecystitis and many types of cancer.
Yet this insidious disease has been increasing exponentially over the past few decades. Why? Is it our sugar intake? Technology reducing our incidental activity? Researchers have determined that the cause of obesity is multifactorial, however, one very important factor is early life nutrition.
During the first thousand days of life, from what a mother-to-be consumes in the months leading up to conception, throughout pregnancy, and through infancy, have been found to have a significant impact on metabolic programming, particularly when it comes to future obesity risk.
Let's review some of the key factors that influence childhood obesity, which in turn predisposes adult obesity:
1. Pre-conception BMI -- Overweight or obese mothers are significantly more likely to have overweight children, with evidence showing that a woman's Body Mass Index (BMI) at the start of pregnancy is a strong predictor of her offspring's risk for obesity in adult life. Obesity and pregnancy are associated with insulin resistance and inflammatory changes that exacerbate in combination, increasing lipid transfer earlier in pregnancy.
2. Pregnancy weight gain -- Even if a mother-to-be has a healthy weight at conception, gaining excessive weight during pregnancy can contribute to childhood obesity risk. The Southampton Women's Study found that children born to mothers who gained excessive weight during pregnancy had a greater fat mass at birth and at 6 years than children whose mother's pregnancy weight gain was within the recommended range.
3. Maternal nutrition -- Research suggests that the mother's nutrition intake throughout pregnancy can impact the establishment of the set points of appetite control systems in their children. The hypothalamus (part of the brain) integrates signals of nutrient availability to control feeding behaviour by secreting appetite-stimulating and appetite-suppressing neurotransmitters, so it is essential that a mother's diet is rich in key nutrients such as omega 3 fats, vitamin D and iron.
4. Microbial diversity -- Bacterial composition of the gut modulates the weight gain and altered metabolism that drives obesity. Over the course of pregnancy, maternal bacterial load increases, and gut bacterial diversity changes. Alterations in the bacterial composition of the mother have been shown to affect the development and function of the gastrointestinal tract of her offspring, impacting the infant's risk of obesity.
By educating mothers-to-be before conception and/or during pregnancy, we can help to reduce the risk of obesity in the next generation.