WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
New research from the United Kingdom has established a new connection between maternal health and health habits to the children’s body mass index (BMI) and their psychological wellbeing. Several early life factors are strongly associated with BMI trajectories throughout childhood, adolescence and beyond.1
WHAT THIS MEANS
Before going any further, it’s important to understand what body mass index (BMI) is and how it relates to health. BMI is a tool used to estimate person’s body fat based on their height and weight. While there are limitations to using BMI, it is a helpful tool to gauge body fat and risk of diseases that can occur with excess fat.2 BMI categories are listed below:
- Underweight = <18.5
- Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
- Overweight = 25–29.9
- Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
While there are certain undeniable connections between various factors and weight gain in children, the mechanisms behind these connections have yet to be fully understood. Additionally, there is a lack of understanding between BMI development and psychosocial outcomes in children. This study set out to understand how early life factors influence BMI and how different BMI trajectories (healthy weight, overweight, obese) influence a child’s psychosocial wellbeing.
A total of 16,936 participants were included in the study and followed for their entire first decade of life. Data was collected at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11 years, during which height and weight were measured to calculate BMI and BMI trajectory (BMI trajectory measures determined if a child’s weight was stable, decreasing, moderately increasing or highly increasing throughout the study). At age 11, psychosocial measures were evaluated to determine level of happiness, self-esteem, exploratory risky behaviors, socioemotional difficulties and skills, and antisocial behavior. Children were classified into groups based on the ethnicity reported by their mothers: white, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black Caribbean, black African and other. In addition, information on family income and maternal education were collected.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
Results from the study provide valuable information for parents, further solidifying information that is well understood as well as adding novel information for parents and researchers to better understand. The study found that socioeconomic disadvantage, being from certain minority backgrounds, maternal smoking, maternal educational attainment and maternal BMI all increased the likelihood of a child being in the “moderate increasing” and “high increasing” BMI categories. Additionally, being overweight throughout childhood resulted in poor psychosocial outcomes at age 11. These children were more likely to have socioemotional difficulties, low self-esteem, low overall happiness, body dissatisfaction and were more likely to have reported trying cigarettes and alcohol.
This study also found that routine plays an important role in BMI category – children who had a regular bedtime and regularly ate breakfast were more likely to be of a normal weight in early childhood and throughout childhood. This is not surprising, as disruptive sleep schedules are thought to influence weight gain through increased appetite and a stronger desire to consume energy-dense foods.
There are many factors that influence a child’s weight that are challenging to change – socioeconomic status, ethnicity, smoking during pregnancy, weight or educational attainment. However, there are several factors that play a critical role in a child’s weight that parents have significant influence over – creating a routine and ensuring a child eats breakfast. Children who get enough sleep and eat breakfast are more likely to be of a healthy weight and stay at a healthy weight as adolescents and adults. It’s challenging to get children to bed on time or prepare breakfast when kids are rushing off to school in the morning, but the time you put in to establish a healthy routine for your child will benefit them in the long run.
5 Breakfast Tips to Help Your Kids Maintain a Healthy Weight
- Plan Ahead. Plan a healthy breakfast the night before to make getting out of the house for school and work a breeze. This can mean having easy items on-hand like pre-cut and washed fruit and yogurt, or a simple, easy breakfast recipe prepared the night before. Check out the links below for inspiration …
- Skip the Sugar. Many breakfast items, like cereal, pancakes with syrup, flavored yogurts and baked goods such as cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, muffins, and waffles include very high amounts of sugar. Use fruit to sweeten breakfast instead.
- Keep Their Favorites On-Hand. If your child is a picky eater and only enjoys few healthy breakfast items, that’s ok. Making time for breakfast is already challenging and you don’t want the first hour of the day to become a battle of wills, so purchase their favorite items to have on-hand every morning. The consistency of having the same breakfast foods every day before school will add routine to their day. Try new breakfast recipes on weekends.
- Protein. Protein is an important part of a healthy breakfast, as it provides the body with energy to start the day. Excellent sources of breakfast protein include eggs, yogurt, cheese, oats, nuts & seeds, whole grain breads and milk. Many veggies often used in omelets or quiches are a great source of protein as well.
- Fruits & Veggies = Fiber. Make sure to incorporate fruits or veggies into breakfast, as they contain fiber that will keep your children satiated for longer, enabling them to concentrate until lunchtime.
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