Born to Be Fat: Obesity Begins in the Womb and Persists Throughout Life

Half the women of childbearing age in Britain are either overweight or clinically obese. Few have a chance of struggling into the dresses they wore on their wedding day. Some blame their genes. ’I can’t help being fat, because both my mother and father were plump: Others blame their serial pregnancies. ‘I’ve had four children, how can you expect me to look like a bean pole?’ Studies do indeed show that the average woman retains about two pounds of the weight she gains during a pregnancy. Although this is the norm, it’s neither necessary nor healthy for either mother or child. If a multiparous woman puts on two stone between the ages of twenty and fifty, which is easily done, she doubles her risk of developing breast cancer. To counter this threat, the Royal College of Obstetricians has issued a leaflet advising women to lose weight before they become pregnant, since obesity increases the risk of miscarriage, blood clots, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. Overweight mums are also more likely to produce chubby babies, who are nearly twice as likely to die either soon after birth or while they’re still in the womb. In the old days mothers went out of their way to give birth to bonny, bouncing babies. They were the ones who won the tiny tot beauty competitions, but afterwards never outgrew their puppy fat. Now, the aim must be to give birth to offspring with athletic figures. Baby boys should look like miniature Roger Federers, and girls scaled-down versions of Maria Sharapova.

In an ideal world women would train for childbirth just as they would for a marathon race. This is now happening in America where a cult book called What to Expect

When You’re Expecting advises Hollywood mothers-to-be to prepare for their starring roles by employing personal trainers, dieticians and Pilates instructor. In order to preserve their figures, avoid stretch marks, and escape the extra weight gains of the last month of pregnancy, some well-to-do mums are opting to have elective Caesarean sections as early as 35 weeks. And stars like Victoria Beckham and Beyoncé vie with each other to see who can be first to get back to their pre-pregnancy weights. Rather than relax, and enjoy the joys of impending motherhood, they’d rather wallow in the narcissistic pleasure of being told: ‘I can’t believe you’ve just had a baby.’

During pregnancy it’s important to have a well-balanced diet, but not necessary to boost one’s calorie intake to any significant extent. Experts suggest that it requires an extra 300 calories a day to feed a developing foetus. This is a miniscule amount, and one obstetrician suggests a better way of maintaining an optimum energy balance is to save calories by having a little more sleep in the latter stages of pregnancy. The average woman puts on about 27 lbs during pregnancy, largely due to the extra pelvic loading of an enlarged womb, a growing child and its surrounding bag of amniotic fluid. To this must be added a hormonally induced increase in the body’s fat stores. This is probably an atavistic response, designed to make sure that after birth an exhausted mother, who may be unable to forage for food or drive to the local supermarket, has enough nourishment to feed herself and her suckling child.

It’s vital that mothers should eat well during their pregnancies, for whatever chemicals they carry in their blood stream will be transported to their babies. If they smoke, their offspring will be subjected to nicotine poisoning and enter the world an average of seven ounces lighter than usual. If they eat sugar rich foods, their foetuses will take in sucrose, put on weight and develop a sweet tooth habit which they’ll carry with them throughout their lives. If they lack Vitamin D, they’re likely to give birth to children who will on average be eight per cent fatter than their class mates when they reach their sixth birthday. Worse still are the results of studies carried out at Southampton University, which show that women who eat badly during their pregnancies can permanently change their baby’s DNA in a way which raises their risk of developing obesity in later life. ‘This study indicates that measures to prevent childhood obesity should be targeted on improving a mother’s nutrition and her baby’s development in the womb’, affirms the lead researcher. This opinion is shared by scientists at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, who carried out Magnetic Resonance Imaging studies which revealed that fat mothers tend to produce children with fatty livers, liable to suffer lifelong metabolic diseases like obesity, diabetes and hepatitis. They are ‘programming their children to become obese themselves’, said the leader of the team, who described the phenomenon as a ‘health time bomb.’ This is a menace we can no longer ignore. During their pregnancies expectant mothers must be encouraged to eat a nutritious diet. They

must eat for one and exercise for two. And cut down their intake of sugar, an invaluable habit which will keep them slim when their baby- rearing days are over.


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