We can’t deny the increased prevalence of obesity the world over, but experts continue to debate the leading factors behind this epidemic. Most everyone agrees that when “calories in” exceed “calories out”, an individual will gain weight, however, the biological underpinnings of overeating and food cravings are worthy of examination.
Melinda Sothern, a fitness and nutrition expert at LSU believes that the American obesity surge that began in the 80’s could link back to a trifecta of pregnancy-related factors in the 1950’s and 60’s. At this time in American history, pregnant women were instructed by their physicians to restrict weight gain (to about 10 lbs) and advised to smoke or diet to stay within this limit over the course of their pregnancy.
At the same time, breast feeding became increasingly unpopular so many bottle fed babies missed out on valuable nutrients from their mother’s breast milk. Studies show that children who are fed formula have a greater risk of obesity in adulthood when compared with breast fed infants.
Finally, the lack of breast feeding led to babies being born closer together, which meant each fetus had access to fewer nutrients in the womb and was subsequently at risk for low birth weight .
This bundle of factors primed individuals for nutrient cravings in infancy and beyond.
Sothern notes that these “nutrient-craving” babies grew up into “nutrient-craving” adults who then passed genes along to the next generation. It should come as no surprise that food cravings coupled with ubiquitous fatty/salty/sugary fare, plus increasingly sedentary lifestyles , would lead to the obesity epidemic we are dealing with today.
Is this plausible? Can eating habits and behaviors from expectant mothers in the 1950’s have such a profound effect on future generations? And if so, how do we proceed in our national fight against obesity?