A new study suggests that it is not only a mother's weight which can impact her child's heath, with researchers in Singapore finding that children with obese fathers are also more likely to also be obese themselves.
A team of researchers from the A*STAR Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences followed 1,247 women during pregnancy to look at how various risk factors combined can influence a child's risk of obesity.
It is already known that the period between conception and a child's second birthday is crucial in determining his or her future risk of obesity, however previous studies which have identified several risk factors for it during this window have mainly looked at them only in isolation.
For the new research the team looked at six of these risk factors: mother overweight/obese (body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 25); father overweight/obese; excessive weight gain during pregnancy; raised blood glucose during pregnancy; breastfeeding for less than four months; and introducing solid food before four months.
In addition to monitoring the women during their pregnancy the team also looked at the children when they were four years old, assessing measures of excess weight and obesity including BMI, waist-to-height ratio, sum of skinfolds, and fat mass index -- which, unlike BMI, is the measurement of how much fat, not weight, a person has relative to their height.
The team found that the more risk factors parents had, the more likely their child was to be overweight or obese, with children from families with four or more risk factors 11 times more likely to be overweight when compared to children whose families had no risk factors.
The strongest risk factor was the parents' weight, with the team finding that perhaps surprisingly, the weight of both mothers and fathers made an equal contribution to the risk of a child being obese.
The second strongest risk factor was pregnancy weight gain, followed by breastfeeding duration, the timing of solid food introduction, and lastly maternal glucose levels.
"If either the mom or the dad was overweight, the contribution was similar, but if both parents were overweight, the probability of the child being overweight doubled," commented study author Izzuddin Bin Mohd Aris, with the team adding that although fathers could be transmitting genetic, or epigenetic factors that influence obesity risk, a father's weight could also be an indicator of the family's diet and exercise levels.
"The most important thing is that all these risk factors are modifiable," says Aris. "Targeting only one of them will have a limited impact, but if we can target them in tandem then we should be able to reduce the risk of obesity even further."
The results can be found published online in the International Journal of Obesity.