Five Healthy Habits for Mothers That Could Cut Their Child's Risk of Becoming Obese: Harvard Study

Mothers can significantly cut the risk of their children becoming obese if they themselves follow five healthy habits, according to a study.

Scientists at Harvard University believe exercising regularly; eating a healthy diet; maintaining a healthy body weight; consuming moderate levels of alcohol; and not smoking can cut a child's risk of becoming obese by 75 percent compared with those who do the opposite.

And when both mothers and children stick to these habits, the risk of obesity was 82 percent lower than those who didn't, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chance School of Public Health found.

The authors highlighted that while an individual's genetic makeup plays a role in whether they become obese, nurture rather than nature appears to determine the biggest part.

File photo: Research suggests having a second child places strain on parents that can cause their mental health to deteriorate. Getty Images

Dr. Qi Sun, a senior author of the study and associate professor of nutrition, commented in a statement: "Our study was the first to demonstrate that an overall healthy lifestyle really outweighs any individual healthy lifestyle factors followed by mothers when it comes to lowering the risk of obesity in their children."

The U.S. is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, and as such this research could have important implications for how it is tackled. Currently one in five children aged between six to 19 years old are obese. The condition raises the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, as well as stroke and some forms of cancer.

To arrive at their findings, researchers assessed data from almost 17,000 women and their 24,000+ children aged between nine to 18 years of age who were taking part in a separate study.

Over 5 percent of the children became obese five years after participating in the original studies. Their mother smoking, being obese or having a sedentary lifestyle were found to be likely contributing factors.

More specifically, children whose mothers had a healthy body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9 were associated with a 56 percent lower risk of obesity compared with those whose mothers were overweight. And mothers who did not smoke were linked to a 31 percent lower risk of obesity in their children than those who did.

A similar pattern was noted in children whose mothers consumed low to moderate levels (between 1 to 14.9g a day) of alcohol compared with those who didn't drink at all. There was not enough data to find the same correlation between heavy drinking, however.

But researchers were surprised to find a mother's diet alone wasn't linked with obesity in children. That could be because children don't exclusively eat at home, and school lunches and the food they can pick up in their neighborhood should be taken into account.