Childhood Obesity Prevention Strategy: Pregnancy Fitness

Stopping The Epidemic

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic may best be stopped by creating a healthy environment in utero. Public discussion on the topic of childhood obesity is turning from children to infants. The image of the rolly polly baby as a healthy infant is fading. Evidence is mounting that babies born to overweight mothers and those with insulin resistance or glucose intolerance are already at risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We have to ask the question: How do we prevent childhood obesity at its root?

DTP® suggests that pregnancy fitness – especially aerobics or cardiovascular conditioning – can play a critical role in the effort to prevent childhood obesity. While scientists have yet to do direct studies on this theory, there is enough information available to indicate that moms who exercise vigorously prior to and during pregnancy are at reduced risk for disorders of pregnancy such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia that lead to later metabolic and cardiovascular disease for themselves and their offspring. There is also some evidence that babies of exercising mothers see health benefits during their childhood.

Vigorous exercise produces the best health outcomes for mom and baby.

Why Is Pregnancy Fitness Important?

The first and most obvious answer is that if a pregnant woman exercises vigorously enough, she is burning sugar, thus reducing the type of metabolic stress that can result in gestational diabetes. We know that overweight women who require insulin reduce the amount of insulin needed if they exercise. At the same time, they are reducing the impact of the disorder on their offspring. Recently, we have begun seeing reports of children as young as three years old having coronary artery disease, in part due to the conditions of their gestation.

Second, and the more intricate possibility, is that the whole biochemical milieu in which the exercising mother’s fetus develops is teaching it to survive in a fit environment. Think:  The cells drive the behavior of the organism. If the cells are used to a bath of healthy chemicals, the bottom up drive to provide that environment will help produce behavior achieving the desired result. In a manner of speaking, an exercising mom-to-be helps provide her offspring with an appetite for motion.

How Do We Get There From Here?

There are two major steps that need to be taken to help bring at-risk moms/babies into the realm of the active.

1. Care providers – midwives and obstetricians – need to support their patients in finding appropriate cardiovascular conditioning activities or programs.

2. Pre/postnatal fitness professionals need to insure that appropriate and enjoyable activities are available not only to those likely to exercise in any case, but also to those who would like to be active, but for whom social support and a safe psychological environment are necessary.

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Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy – Behavior: Avoiding Risks

Sometimes it seems like pregnancy is a time of restrictions. Avoiding risks can be one thing that makes it seem that way. But, bear with us here in an interesting trip through danger and finding you find ways of enhancing your pregnancy!

Risk Factor #1:

Lack of prenatal care. More than anything else, be sure you have care. Having someone monitor your health and that of your baby during pregnancy is vital to a good outcome.

Exercise! Avoiding it is a risk factor for diabetes and preeclampsia.

Exercise! Avoiding it is a risk factor for diabetes and preeclampsia.

Risk Factor #2:

Not exercising. Sedentary behavior increases the risk for metabolic, cardiovascular and immune disorders.

I know, I know, you don’t have time to exercise. Well, pay now or pay later, as they say. Make time to go to a class (make sure it includes 20 -30 minutes of aerobics) a couple times a week. A class will also provide social support, another factor that enhances your pregnancy. Take a walk at lunch time. Practice relaxation techniques.

Risk Factor #3:

Breathing dangerous fumes. Yes, this includes smoking and second-hand smoke. But, it also means avoiding environments where there is a lot smog (near highways), living with mold or dust, and fancy cleansers that may have dangerous chemicals in them. Stick with vinegar, ammonia or bleach as cleansers.

Smog can endanger your fetus!

Smog can endanger your fetus!

We are learning that combustion exhaust from cars and trucks can negatively affect birth weight and prematurity. If you live or work near a highway or in an area where smog is prevalent, what are your options? Can you transfer or move? Can you wear a mask? Talk to your care provider and figure out the best protection for you and your fetus.

Risk Factor #4:

Poor Nutrition. Yup, just go back one entry and find out how food affects pregnancy. If you don’t eat enough protein and drink enough water, you don’t make sufficient blood volume to nourish your placenta and thus your fetus.

Read labels!

Read labels!

Eat whole foods and learn to read labels when you buy processed foods. What is a “processed” food? Anything with more than one ingredient!

Some processing (ex: homemade soup) takes little nutrition away, but some processing (ex: potato chips) takes everything good away and replaces it with unsafe substances. Look for low sodium, low sugar, high vitamin and mineral content items with no saturated or trans fats.

Read the ingredients; if you don’t know what the words mean, maybe you want to pass it up.

Risk Factor #5:

Alcohol and Drugs. Common items can be as dangerous as street drugs, which

There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine...later.

There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine...later.

No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.

No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.

Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.

Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.

can severely compromise you baby’s future. If you have a drug or alcohol habit, get help.

Risk Factor #6:

Genetics. You can have genetic predispositions for many pregnancy issues. However, that does not necessarily mean you will develop a given disorder. For example, nutrition and exercise greatly reduce the risk and severity of metabolic issues. Some genetic issues are unavoidable however, and your care provider will alert you to these, if they are relevant.

Risk Factor #7:

Social issues – isolation, lack of support, abuse, poverty. All of these factors can have negative effects.

If isolation is a simple matter of needing to meet other moms-to-be, join an exercise program. That way, you get both support and exercise; just be sure it includes aerobics, along with centering, relaxation and appropriate strength.

If your situation is more dire, seek the help of a care provider or social worker at your local hospital or clinic. Safety and support are critical for you at this time. Get the help you need. There are people who care. And, if you know of someone who needs help, help them.

If you have other risk factors to offer, please post them in the comments. Thanks!

What’s next?  BIRTH!!