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Making healthy lifestyle choices in terms of food, exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking doesn’t only influence individual health, it may also affect the health of children whose mothers follow a healthier lifestyle.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 American children are obese. In turn, this increases the risk of disease in adulthood such as diabetes and heart disease.

Obesity can be caused by many factors including the body’s ability to handle metabolism, short sleep duration, lack of physical activity and undesired eating behaviors, as well as the most important factor—genetics.

But researchers suggest that there might be more at play when it comes to childhood obesity. They say that a child’s eating behaviors may be motivated by the diet and lifestyle choices of his or her mother.

An international team from Canada and the U.S. conducted a study to determine the link between childhood obesity and a mother’s lifestyle choices.

In this observational study, scientists had 24,289 children aged 9 to 14 born from 16,945 women complete a questionnaire about their medical history and lifestyle choices.

Participants were asked about their levels of physical activity and diets, while the mothers were questioned about smoking and alcohol consumption.

Although the study faced limitations, as the information obtained for the study (weight, lifestyle characteristics, food intake and physical activity levels) were all based on self-reporting, the researchers stated that the study “shows that mothers’ overall healthy lifestyle during the period of their offspring’s childhood and adolescence is associated with a substantially lower risk of obesity in their children.”

After calculating the risk of obesity, the researchers found that mothers who maintained a healthy body weight had children with a 56 percent lower risk of obesity compared to the group of children with mothers in non-healthy BMI ranges of underweight, overweight and obese.

Children of mothers who were found to exercise the recommended amount of time per week, and who drank 1 to 2 glasses of wine or a pint of draft beer per day, had a lower risk of obesity compared to mothers who did not drink alcohol and did not actively exercise.

These findings emphasize the importance of physical activity.

Additionally, the children of non-smoking mothers had a 31 percent lower risk of obesity compared to the children of mothers who smoked frequently.

The risk of obesity was 75 percent lower for children of mothers who followed the recommended low risk lifestyle compared to the children of mothers who did not.

The low risk lifestyle consisted of a healthy diet, healthy body weight, healthy levels of physical activity, no smoking and light to moderate intake of alcohol.

In the end, to help curb obesity in children or reduce the risk of obesity, the researchers suggested that the mother and the child both stick to a healthy lifestyle.

With the finding that the mother’s diet might influence a child’s likelihood of obesity, the team believes that further research is needed into the impact of a father’s diet in the development of obesity as well.

The study does not confirm whether or not a mother’s diet while pregnant influences the development of obesity, but the research is crucial in a time when obesity in children is on the rise.

To reduce future childhood obesity rates, identifying these risk factors will aid in prevention.

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