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Nurture not nature is root cause of obesity in children

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A parent’s relationship to their child may be the root cause of obesity – not genetics – a study presented to MPs has found.

Researchers found the relationship between an obese parent and their same-sex child determines childhood obesity. A daughter of an obese mother was 10 times more likely to be obese herself.

The study, from the EarlyBird Diabetes Trust, tracked the lives of 300 children for 12 years. It found at age eight, 40% of daughters who had obese mothers were also obese.

In comparison, only 8% of daughters with mothers classified ‘overweight’, and 5% of daughters of those classified ‘normal weight’ were obese.

A similar pattern existed between fathers and sons. Eighteen per cent of obese sons had obese fathers.

However, the pattern did not exist between mothers and sons or fathers and daughters. This indicates behavioural factors, not genetic factors are the cause of obesity.

The study, presented to MPs at a House of Commons reception yesterday, also found the weight gained before age five determined obesity levels later in life. Ninety per cent of the excess weight gained by girls before puberty had already been gained by age five. The same was true for 70% of boys.

The study’s lead author, Terry Wilkin, said: ‘That childhood obesity has an impact at such an early age might question the emphasis so often placed school-related activities (PE, school dinners, school run etc).

‘It may be more profitable for example, to target the obese parent before conception, than the obese child afterwards. Indeed, it may not even be necessary to reduce the weight of the obese parent – only to modify the behaviours that rendered him/her obese before those behaviours are visited on the offspring.’

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