Fact. In 2012, 35.7% of US adults and 16.9% of US children age 2 to 19 were obese, according to the CDC
Fact. Half of all U.S. adults will be obese by 2030 unless they change their ways, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Fact. Obesity raises the risk of numerous diseases, from type 2 diabetes to endometrial cancer, chronic heart disease and stroke.
So we were extremely interested to learn of new research that suggests the unhealthy cycle could be broken by weight-loss surgery. In a first-of-a-kind study, Canadian researchers tested children born to obese women prior to weight loss surgery and their siblings conceived afterward.
Even more intriguing, the researchers discovered that numerous genes linked to obesity-related health problems worked differently in the younger siblings than in their older brothers and sisters.
Although diet and exercise will play a huge role in how fit the younger siblings will continue to be, the findings suggest the children born to mothers who have undergone weight loss surgery might have an advantage.
So why would there be a difference? Clearly weight loss surgery doesn’t change a womans’ genes. However, it seems as if either the surgery or more likely the subsequent weight loss can change how certain genes operate in her child’s body. The researchers suggest that factors inside the womb seem to affect the chemical ‘dimmer switches’ that make the fetus’ genes speed up or slow down or switch on and off.
Dr. Susan Murphy of Duke University wasn’t involved in the research says it makes biological sense that the earliest nutritional environment could affect a developing metabolism, although she cautions that healthier family habits after mom’s surgery may play a role, too.
The research has implications far beyond the relatively few women who undergo gastric bypass surgery before having a baby. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than half of pregnant women are overweight or obese. Tackling obesity before or during pregnancy can provide a lasting benefit for both mother and baby.
It’s not just a matter of how much moms weigh when they conceive, gaining too much weight during pregnancy increases the child’s risk of eventually developing obesity and diabetes. Overweight mothers have higher levels of sugar and fat in the bloodstream, which in turn makes it to the womb.
How much weight loss is needed to have a healthy baby?
In the study, researchers took blood samples from children born to 20 women before and after the complex gastric bypass surgery, who, on average, lost about 100 pounds. They compared differences in more than 5,600 genes between the younger and older siblings and found significant differences in the activity of certain genes clustered in pathways known to affect blood sugar metabolism and heart disease risk.
Only time will tell if the children born after mom’s surgery really get lasting benefits. Meanwhile, specialists urge women planning a pregnancy to talk with their doctors about their weight ahead of time. Besides having potential long-term consequences, extra pounds can lead to a variety of immediate complications such as an increased risk of premature birth and cesarean sections.