This blog was written by H&W faculty member Jenni Gabelsberg DPT, MSc, MTC, WCS, BCB-PMD. You can catch Jenni teaching Care of the Postpartum Patient later this month in Oakland, CA.
Physical Therapists specializing in Women’s Health are in a unique position to help guide and inspire women during their perinatal years, affecting both the health of the woman, as well as the long-term health of any unborn children.
In a recent study published in The Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, early onset childhood obesity was determined to be one of the leading pediatric health concerns in the US. Women in their peripartum years need to be educated on what the risk factors for childhood obesity are, and how their personal health decisions can affect their children even before they are conceived. These risk factors are stated as being: maternal obesity at time of conception; excessive weight gain during pregnancy; smoking before, during, and/or after pregnancy; and bottle-feeding the infant after birth.
If a child is born of an obese mother, it has been shown that by four years of age, 24% of children were already obese (and only 9% of children born to mothers of normal weight during first trimester of pregnancy). If a mother gained more than the recommended amount of weight during her pregnancy, it has been shown that there is a 6 times increased risk of that child being overweight or obese by preschool. According to the WHO, an obese mom who gains more than the WHO recommended 11-20 pounds during pregnancy has a 48% increased risk of having an overweight or obese child by age 7. Children who are exposed to smoke in utero were both higher risk of being obese in childhood, and also being of shorter stature. And finally, infants who were fed by bottle were shown to have three times greater risk of rapid weight gain compared to those breast-fed in the first three years of life.
These risk factors not only affect the infant’s birth weight, but can also influence their weight as toddlers and preschool ages. According to the WHO, “Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. “ The prevalence of childhood obesity globally is increasing at a rapid rate and has serious implications into adulthood. If children begin life as overweight or obese, they are much more likely to remain obese into adulthood, and also more likely to develop lifelong chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
More information about childhood and adult obesity can be obtained by watching the HBO series “Weight of the Nation”, which has interviews of many researchers who are focusing their studies on the secondary complications of obesity and how we can fight them. As physical therapists treat women during their childbearing years, it is critical that we use that time to educate women on the long term impact of their health choices and inspire them to make positive changes that will impact both their health and their children’s health for the long term.