There is much discussion these days about obesity, both in Australia and worldwide. The WHO (World Health Organisation) now reports that internationally, obesity is a bigger killer than poor nutrition.
One of the advantages of becoming older is that you see things over a long time frame. I have now had the opportunity to see underweight babies grow to adulthood and conversely seen chubby infants also become adults.
It has been stated by some eminent international authors on public health that being underweight or overweight at birth has negative incomes upon health later in life. It is my life experience that these statements are correct. In years gone by when I was working in true country general practice I saw very slim, underweight and unwell babies in the first 12 months of life become overweight and unwell later in life. I have also seen overweight babies develop complications of obesity later in life. Conversely, I have seen many very chubby babies become slim healthy and active adults.
Because of my interest in babies and mothers who are pregnant I have read authors commenting upon the connection between pregnancy and health later in life.
There is increasing evidence that the quality of nutrition in utero affects long-term health. Poor nutrition in the womb has consequences. Some problems will be completely beyond our control. For example, it is impossible to impact upon the structure and size of the placenta. A mother’s nutrition both before conception and during pregnancy however can be controlled.
The problems with nutrition in pregnancy relate to a mother being both overweight and underweight. Interestingly, been born over or underweight increases later risks for health. Like so often in life it is being at the optimum – neither over nor underweight – which conveys the best long-term health outcomes.
Overweight babies are at risk of later obesity and metabolic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
Fortunately some simple interventions during pregnancy are helpful for overweight mothers. Altering food choices from high fat / high sugar to healthier options is useful. Any degree of increased physical activity during pregnancy is helpful. Even small increases in physical activity have a positive benefit to both the mother and the unborn child. For example Professor Jodie Dodd, from the University of Adelaide, Australia summarised her results: “Infants born to women who received lifestyle advice were 18% less likely to have a high birth weight compared to infants born to women who received standard care”.
So the key message of this blog is that when pregnant:
- make healthy food choices and
- any degree of increased physical activity will provide benefit both to yourself and the unborn child.
Dr Brian Symon
The Babysleep Doctor