Fat moms make fat babies; and thin, high-carb eating moms might make fat kids too…

Juliana is the oldest of three kids, and the only one of my three kids who was ever overweight.  Indeed, at the moment, my son Teddy is technically underweight, with a BMI in the 3rd percentile.

When I was pregnant with and nursing Juliana, I ate a vegetarian diet.  When I was pregnant with her sister Molly, I had an overwhelming desire for chicken, and abruptly stopped eating vegetarian after 18 years.  So I got to wondering whether there might be a relationship between what I ate while pregnant and nursing and Juliana’s metabolism and ability to handle carbohydrates versus her siblings.

And there could be.  Fat mothers produce fatter babies; diabetic mothers (whose blood sugar is on average higher than non-diabetic mothers) produce fatter babies.  And the incidence of fat babies is increasingly dramatically, in step with the increase in obese and diabetic adults.

“The probable explanation is that as women of childbearing age get heavier and more of them become diabetic, they pass the metabolic consequences on to their children through what is known technically as the intrauterine environment. The nutrient supply from mother to developing child passes across the placenta in proportion to the nutrient concentration in the mother’s bloodstream. If the mother has high blood sugar, then the developing pancreas in the fetus will respond to this stimulus by overproducing insulin-secreting cells. “The baby is not diabetic,” explains Boyd Metzger, who studies diabetes and pregnancy at Northwestern University, “but the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are stimulated to function and grow in size and number by the environment they’re in. So they start over functioning. That in turn leads to a baby laying down more fat, which is why the baby of a diabetic mother is typified by being a fat baby.”

Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (Kindle Locations 8167-8174). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Juliana wasn’t actually a fat baby.  But her intrauterine environment was with me eating a vegetarian diet, which was necessarily higher carb than when I switched to being an omnivore with Molly and Teddy’s pregnancies.  She was also nursed for several years with me eating a vegetarian diet.  I’m not diabetic, but that doesn’t mean Juliana didn’t suffer the consequences of my high-carb eating style:

“There’s no reason to think that the hormonal and metabolic consequences of high blood sugar—from what James Neel in 1982 called the “excessive glucose pulses that result from the refined carbohydrates/ over-alimentation of many civilized diets”—do not pass from mother to child through the intrauterine environment, whether the mother is clinically diabetic or not.”

Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (Kindle Locations 8189-8192). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I can’t prove that my eating style contributed to Juliana’s carb sensitivity and subsequent overweight–but it’s an interesting association that she is the only one of three kids who experienced my high-carb eating style and she’s the only one with excess weight.

I think of myself as Juliana’s coach

There’s a bit of a fad now about parents who have been successful at forcing their children to lose weight with “strict and punishing” methods.  While the daughter in the article, now 8, is a healthy weight, you have to wonder if the mother’s methods are going to come back to haunt her later.

To me, it makes more sense to think of yourself as a coach.  No child or teen wants to be overweight.  If you provide them a path to a healthy weight that doesn’t require semi-starvation, they will embrace it.  The key is low carb eating–but there are many other things you may need to tweak.  Juliana’s weight loss was abruptly halted by allergy medications.  It took me 6 weeks to figure out that they were a problem.  Another time we decided she needed to drink much more water, and that got her weight loss going again.  In the Calories In/Calories Out model, these sort of hidden obstacles to weight loss do not get much attention.

Before she started eating low carb, I used to worry about everything she ate, and hope she would eat smaller portions.  Now, we think of weight loss as a big puzzle.  We need to continuously work on the the puzzle to get her to a healthy weight.  I keep reading, and make suggestions of new things to try.

The mother in the above article, Dara-Lynn Weiss, reportedly once tried the Atkins eating plan.  I’m willing to bet she didn’t do it correctly, or she would have finally understood what she had gone through with all the different diets she had tried, and what was going on with her daughter’s huge appetite.

Your child isn’t going to become an expert on low carb eating without your help.  As the coach, you need to learn everything you can to help your child work out his or her own weight loss puzzle.

They probably won’t “grow into it.”

If you buy into the idea that your overweight child may grow into his or her weight, you have to wait until adolescence–possibly until the age of 16 or so for boys–to see if the slimming growth spurt appears before taking action. Your child will go through middle school and high school overweight or obese. They may experience teasing, social isolation, and will certainly find it harder to participate in sports because of their weight.

So what does the research science actually show?   It shows clearly that overweight and obesity among children is more and more common, and that most overweight children will become overweight adults. Time article. CDC Page. About.com.  So the odds are that even if some kids will grow into their weight, yours won’t.

And if they don’t, then they are at risk for all the chronic diseases associated with overweight and obesity.

Don’t let the small possibility that growth will outpace weight gain for your child prevent you from taking action now.

What is Body Mass Index?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a ratio of weight to height. It is a screening tool for spotting people who are more likely to develop various health problems from over or underweight, and for tracking that development in children is progressing appropriately. In adults, a BMI Between 18.5 and 25 is considered healthy. Below 18.5 is underweight. Higher than 25 is overweight; higher than 30 is obese.

In children, the BMI is expressed not only as a number, but as a percentile rank. The child or teen is plotted against other kids of the same age. A child who has a BMI greater than 85 percent of children her age is considered overweight; greater than 95 percent is considered obese. A BMI of less than 5 percent is considered underweight.

There is a very wide range of weights that are considered healthy for a given height in children and adults. Juliana’s healthy weight range is between 93 and 136 pounds. My healthy weight range is between 121 and 171 pounds.

Healthy doesn’t mean ideal for the individual. Although a BMI of 24 is considered healthy, most adults will feel better at a much lower BMI. The same is true for children–although a BMI in the 84th percentile will not technically indicate a child is overweight, that child will likely feel better at a lower BMI.

I have 3 kids but only 1 is overweight

Taubes‘ books also explained why, although I had 3 children who were offered the same food, only one of them was overweight.  They explained why a child could be overweight even while eating the recommended 5 to 9 servings of vegetables and fruit a day.  While not drinking soda, juice, or even milk–just water.  While not eating fast food.  While virtually never eating out at all.  While rarely eating dessert. While being physically active.