How Moms Can Break the Cycle of Obesity

A new survey shows moms have more influence over their kids' weight than they think

We all know that weight problems run in families, and that parents who are obese are more likely to have kids who are obese. According to a new survey conducted by the national non-profit organization HealthyWomen, only 28 percent of women think they can do anything about it. Instead, most of us chalk it up to our genes and assume that there’s nothing we can do about it.

Like their parents, kids are heavier than ever. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions; its rate has more than tripled in the past 30 years. More than 30 percent of American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, according to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report.

That’s why, for their sixth annual national Women TALK survey, HealthyWomen decided to tackle beliefs about obesity -- and find out where parents might be misinformed about their role in their child’s weight. In correcting those myths, parents can understand just how much influence they do have on the health of their offspring, so that they have the opportunity to break the cycle of family obesity.

For instance, most parents think how they treat their kids after they’re born has the greatest effect on whether they’ll become obese. And, in fact, most women don’t realize that a child’s likelihood of becoming obese may in part be determined while they are in the womb. Research shows that moms who are overweight during pregnancy can predispose their unborn child to a life of obesity. According to the survey, only 11 percent of women realize that being obese during the first trimester of pregnancy more than doubles their child’s risk of becoming obese. Research from Harvard Medical School shows that the more weight a woman gains while pregnant, the greater the child’s chances are of being overweight by the age of three. Currently, one in five women is obese at the time of her baby’s conception.

A mother’s influence on her child’s weight doesn’t disappear after she gives birth, however. According to Healthy Women, mom’s BMI has a greater impact on her kids at every age than dad’s does. The reason? Moms still make most of the meals. “Mothers are commonly viewed as role models for eating behavior and serve as the gatekeepers of food,” Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, R.N., executive director of HealthyWomen explains in a written statement. “From an early age, children tend to eat the same foods as their parents, especially mothers.”

Parents aren’t the only ones who rub off on us. The obesity of anyone who is close to us can affect our own body weight. That goes for spouses, siblings and even friends. In fact, having a friend who becomes obese can increase our own chances of obesity by a whopping 57 percent. It’s easy to fall into friends’ unhealthy habits. If they’re eating big, fattening meals all the time, and prefer sedentary pursuits, you’re likely to follow suit whenever you hang out. That’s why it’s essential to be aware of the influence you have on others and others have on you. By instilling your family with healthful habits, and knowing the pitfalls of bad one, you increase your chances -- and your grandchildren’s chances -- of living a longer and healthier life.

How are you trying to reverse the cycle of obesity? Chime in below.

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