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Is educating mothers to promote healthy eating patterns is crucial for preventing obesity in children?

Reviewer : Dr. Abid

Obesity is a condition characterized by abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may negatively impact health. Obesity is quite prevalent and is a common condition which affects both adults and children. Obesity occurs when there is excess calorie intake than required, and these excess calories are stored as fat in the body.

Obesity may increase risk of developing other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, increased risk of cancer, digestive problems, depression etc.

Some of the more common risk factors for developing obesity are; family inheritance, unhealthy diet intake & eating patterns, stress, sleep disturbances, lack of exercise etc.

Obesity can severely affect one’s quality of life as it not only increases the risk of developing different physical diseases but it also affects social life and impacts mental health of affected individuals. Health experts suggest that life style interventions and behavioral changes such as regular exercise, healthy diet intake, and stress management could be the ideal strategies for weight loss and are also preferred weight loss methods for children.

Recently, researchers at the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health analyzed studies conducted in Porto Alegre, Brazil which indicates that the roots for obesity start in the first year of life, after mothers stop breast feeding. The findings of the study are published online in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. Researchers emphasized that the first year after birth is a critical window for the establishment of habits that will influence health patterns throughout one’s life time; and they were surprised to observe through the study that the mothers were offering ultra-processed foods, high in sugar and fat, as early as 6 months of age due to cultural influences and strong marketing of processed baby foods which continues globally.

The studies on dietary habits were conducted in Porto, Alegra, Brazil, in 31 centres that offered counselling to prenatal (before birth), infant care, and other primary care services to low-income families. The objective of the studies was to observe if obesity could be prevented later in life, if pregnant women are informed and counselled to promote infant healthy feeding practices.

The randomized trials included children born from May 2008 to February 2009 and participants were divided into intervention group and control group. [Randomized control trial is a study design in which participants of the study are randomly assigned to one of the two groups; the intervention or experimental group who receive the intervention that is being tested, and the comparison or the control group of participants, who do not receive the intervention.]

During the studies a training program was launched to increase the knowledge of Primary health care workers centered on the ‘Ten Steps for Healthy Feeding for Brazilian children from Birth to Two Years of Age’ under Brazilian dietary guidelines. During the health workers training sugar, sweets, soft drinks, salty snacks, cookies and ultra-processed foods were emphasized as foods for mothers to avoid for their babies until 2 years of age.

Moreover, in the intervention group all families were informed about complementary foods that should not be offered to children under 2 years of age (i.e. cookies, salty snacks, soft drinks, sweets and ultra-processed foods). Children’s growth and other outcomes at ages 6 months, 12 months, 3 years and 6 years were measured; and details about food types, amounts and preparation methods were also recorded.

Results of the studies have shown that energy intake at all ages was lower in the intervention group when compared to the control group with a statistically significant difference at age 3 years. Furthermore, children from the intervention group at 3 years of age had lower consumption of carbohydrates and total fat than the control group; and at 6 years of age had accumulated less body fat as measured by a smaller waist circumference and thinner skin folds.

Thus, through analyzing these studies the researchers explained that the energy intake in both the study groups was above the requirement across all age waves; however, the excess energy intake was comparatively less in the intervention group. They further added that though the disparity was slight at the onset, in long-term the reduced intake of 92kcal per day adds up to 33,000 kcal per year, and changes of this magnitude could explain differences in weight gain during childhood. Moreover, with prevalence of overweight in the intervention group at 7 percent lower than the control group at 6 years suggest a valuable public health impact.


It’s never too early to begin healthy eating habits: New randomized trial shows promoting healthy guidelines result

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