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Two million New Zealanders will be obese by the 2030s

07 July 2018

One in five American children and teenagers aged 6-19 years is obese.

Being obese as a child comes with serious long-term health effects, including higher risk for diseases including asthma, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, depression, and risk factors for heart disease.

Those mother who follow all the habits could help their children to decrease the chances by 75 percent. While it is known that genetics play a role in obesity, the rapid increase of the disease in recent years is likely due to changes in lifestyle and diet, indicating that "nurture" more than "nature" is fueling the current obesity epidemic.

While the greatest drop in obesity risk was seen when mothers and children followed healthy lifestyle habits, numerous healthy habits had a noticeable impact on the risk of childhood obesity.

For the study, published in the journal The BMJ, the team examined data from 24,289 children aged between nine and 18 years of age, who were born to 16,945 women.

Participants completed detailed questionnaires about their medical history and lifestyle, including body mass index (BMI), physical activity levels and diet.

Previously, a 2017 global study found that child obesity could be 35 to 40 per cent inherited from parents.

High BMI is the greatest contributing risk factor to health loss in New Zealand.

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Nonetheless, they said their 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.

"Currently there isn't much data specifically on maternal behaviors after giving birth and associations with childhood obesity", said lead author Dr. Qi Sun.

The risk of obesity was also lower among children of mothers' who consumed low or moderate levels of alcohol compared with children of mothers who abstained from alcohol.

Lastly, children of mothers who followed all five low risk lifestyle factors (a high quality diet, normal body weight, regular physical activities, light to moderate intake of alcohol, and non-smoking) had a 75% lower risk of developing obesity, compared with offspring of women who did not meet any of the low risk lifestyle factors.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the researchers outline some study limitations. Between 18.5kg/m2 and 25kg/m2 is considered the healthy weight range, anything at 30kg/m2 or above is considered obese, Dr Wilson explains.

"Living a healthy lifestyle cannot only help adults to improve their health and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases, but also can exert health benefits to their offspring", Dr. Qi Sun from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, told Reuters Health by email.

These findings highlight the potential benefits of implementing parent based interventions to curb the risk of childhood obesity, they say. Since the mothers in this study were all female nurses, they tend to be a healthy and educated population, and their kids are significantly less likely to be obese than the rest of the population in general.

Two million New Zealanders will be obese by the 2030s