Women who are obese before pregnancy are more likely to later have overweight kids, according to a new study.

And that’s not all. The study also links overweight kids to mothers who smoke and/or are black and Hispanic.

But, that doesn’t doom anyone to being overweight. Nor does it completely dump kids’ obesity on Mom’s shoulders.

The study appears in Pediatrics.

About the Study

The researchers included Pamela Salsberry, PhD, of Ohio State University’s College of Nursing and School of Public Health.

They studied more than 3,000 U.S. children and their biological mothers. The mothers’ weight and health habits were noted. So were the kids’ height and weight up to age 7.

It’s not clear if the results reflect traits passed down from mother to child, or if the family’s environment (such as their diet and activity level) played a role.

The study can’t pinpoint why participants were or weren’t overweight.

Researcher’s Views

Salsberry wasn’t available to talk about the study, but she commented in a news release.

“A child’s weight at three years is a good prediction of what his weight will be at age five, and so on,” Salsberry says. “Weight states tend to persist over time.”

That is, kids who are overweight often stay overweight as they grow up. Of course, it’s possible to defy that trend.

“Obesity continues to rise in adults,” Salsberry says. “And that risk has increased in children, too. Interventions should begin immediately for children who are already overweight at these young ages.”

“Prevention of childhood obesity needs to begin before a woman ever gets pregnant,” Salsberry says.

Consult a doctor with any questions about helping your child achieve a healthy weight and building good habits in diet and exercise.

Like Mother, Like Child?

Reginald Washington, MD, talked to WebMD about the findings.

Washingtondidn’t work on the study. He is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado. He also co-chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ task force on obesity.

“There are a lot of things that potentially can make one overweight,” Washington tells WebMD.

“We’re now adding another one, and that is that if mother is obese at the time she delivers the baby, that will increase the chances of the offspring being obese.”

”But we also know that so will poor diet. So will no exercise. So will having a TV in the [child’s] bedroom,” Washington continues.

“If you eliminated all those other things and mother was obese, would her children be obese? We don’t know that,” he says.

Complex Issue

Washingtoncalls the study “fascinating” and says he’s not trying to minimize the findings.

“I do believe there’s a lot of truth to what they’re saying,” he says. “In the simplest terms, if a mother is obese there’s a higher likelihood that her offspring are going to be obese.”

“Where we get into trouble is where we try to make obesity the result of one or two or three things,” he says. “I think that gets very slippery.”

“We will never find one single cause for obesity,” Washington continues. “Your readers should avoid trying to pick on one thing,” he says.

Fixing the Problem

A better idea, Washington says, is to do what you can to lead a healthy life.

“If your readers know from this study and others that obesity is going to be more likely a problem for you than not, then you try to eliminate all those factors you possibly can,” he says.

“So you make it a point to give your kids healthy snacks. … You have your kids engaged in sports they can do the rest of their lives, not a sport they can do for a little while and then they get tired and they don’t want to do anything at all.”

“You don’t have a TV in their bedroom,” Washington continues. “You don’t allow them to become couch potatoes. You do all of those things.”

He says overweight women should do the same for themselves, working towards a healthy weight from every possible angle.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Salsberry, P. Pediatrics, December 2005; vol 116: pp 1329-1338. News release, Ohio State University. Reginald Washington, MD, professor of pediatrics, University of Colorado; co-chair, American Academy of Pediatrics’ task force on obesity; medical director, Pediatrix Medical Group, Lone Tree, Colo.