First-born daughters of obese women five times more likely to become obese as adults

Woman and child walking

A large-scale study has found that obese mothers are five times more likely to have a daughter that is also obese, sparking concerns about a so-called cycle of ‘intergenerational obesity’.

The New Zealand-based researchers examined early pregnancy data relating to 26,561 Swedish women and their first-born daughters, and found that obesity rates increased by as much as four times - from 3.1% among mothers who conceived between 1982 and 1988 to 12.3% among their daughters, measured between 2000 and 2008.

Researchers found that the daughters of overweight mothers also had a significantly increased risk and were three times more likely to go on to be obese – meaning that women who are even moderately overweight during pregnancy may unwittingly be impacting negatively on the future health of their children.

The study, a collaboration between the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute and Sweden’s Uppsala University, is part of a series of analyses with the objective - say the researchers - of better understanding the long-term effects on offspring of early life events and conditions occurring before, during and after pregnancy.

pregnant woman's baby bump

Obesity during pregnancy increases risk of serious conditions

Dr JosĂ© Derraik, one of the researchers from the Liggins Institute says the findings “add to the international evidence for a worsening intergenerational cycle of obesity”.

He adds: “Obesity increases a pregnant woman’s risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, miscarriage, and infant mortality.”

“Also, there is mounting evidence that obesity during pregnancy may affect children’s health not only in childhood, but also in adult life.”

Other experts have suggested that the reason for this may be that obese mother’s bodies could be providing too much nutrition to their growing babies during pregnancy, and these children’s systems may adapt by storing more fat during childhood and on through into adulthood.

weighing scales and tape measure

Does this explain the increase in obesity?

Experts believe that there are numerous contributory factors which may explain the continuing increase in obesity in Western countries, including major lifestyle changes. Dubbed the ‘obesogenic environment’, the increase in sedentary occupations, coupled with similarly sedentary leisure activities, larger portion sizes and the increased availability of food may all be contributing to our expanding waistlines. In addition, busier lifestyles and unusual working hours may also result in erratic eating patterns and some may develop habits of eating between set mealtimes as a result. The habits of friends, colleagues and, particularly family are also likely to influence food and leisure choices.

Obesity one of the biggest threats to health

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned late last year that obesity remains one of the biggest threats to health in Europe, alongside smoking and excess alcohol consumption after it was revealed that a hefty 59% of people in the EU are now clinically obese. The news was a companied by the stark warning that young people may not live as long as their grandparents, if these combined issues are not urgently addressed.

In the UK, the WHO predicts that obesity levels will continue to increase unless preventative measures are urgently taken, and estimates that 64% of women and 74% of men will be clinically obese by 2030, a situation that could have profound implications for public health.

If you are planning to conceive in the near future and are concerned about your BMI, visit our Six easy steps to success for advice, tips and resources to help you lose weight and feel great.

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About the author

Georgie Fenn, writes most of our news articles and social media posts.