Fat kids made in the womb: dietitian

Pregnant woman weighing herself on a bathroom scale
Pregnant woman weighing herself on a bathroom scale

What a mother eats in pregnancy can make a child fat

Never before has a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and eat healthy been so important, particularly for hopeful would-be mums.

Figures released in 2017 showed Australian adults are now nearly twice as likely to be obese as their parents and one in five kids are overweight before they start school.

Emerging research in the field of epigenetics – the study of heritable changes in gene expression – suggests there is a lot women can do even before they have a baby to reduce the risk of childhood obesity, says leading Australian dietitian Melanie McGrice.

Ms McGrice says there is no more important time to eat well than when you’re pregnant.

“The research really suggests what a woman eats in the lead-up to conception and during pregnancy has an impact on epigenetic programming that significantly impacts the weight of children,” Ms McGrice said.

“And approximately 50 per cent of Australian mums are gaining too much weight in pregnancy.”

Another important factor to reduce the risk of a childhood obesity is parents who model good eating habits but Ms McGrice fears many are failing this responsibility.

The last Australian Health Survey found about a third of Australian adults’ diets is made up of discretionary foods, which are things like cakes, biscuits and soft drinks.

“If they are the foods adults are eating they’re typically the foods kids are eating too,” warned Ms McGrice.

She said parents also need to limit the frequency of “treat” foods.

“It’s really about moderation, there is certainly nothing wrong with going out and having an ice cream when you are down on the beach on a hot day,” she said.

“The problem is when there’s a chocolate bar going into the lunch box every day or the family sharing lollies around the television after dinner every night or ice cream for dessert four or five nights a week.”

Preventing childhood obesity early is such a big issue, the Australian government should be providing Medicare rebates for mums-to-be to have an appointment with a dietician during pregnancy, Ms McGrice believes.

“I think that is the time when women really need to be focusing on their diet and learning how to eat well,” she told AAP.

“Unfortunately there’s still a lot of people that believe in eating for two literally. When you are pregnant you don’t literally need to eat for two.

“Yes, you have increased nutritional requirements, but your kilojoule requirements are not that much higher, in fact they don’t increase at all during the first trimester.”

TYPICAL PREGNANCY DIET PLAN FOR ONE DAY

Breakfast: One-half cup Swiss muesli topped with one-half cup low-fat milk

Morning tea: One wholemeal crumpet topped with slices of tomato

Lunch: Wholemeal wrap with 65g chicken breast, one tsp chutney & salad (baby spinach leaves, grated carrot, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil)

Afternoon tea: one tub yoghurt topped with a punnet of raspberries

Dinner: Cajun fish on sweet potato mash

Supper: 40g cheese.