How Obesity Can be Passed to the Next Generation


Eagle, CO

Last updated on May 25, 2021

Posted on May 25, 2021

Health column by Dr. Greg Feinsinger. Champion of Whole Food Plant Based Living and righteous person.

Since the 1970s, each generation of Americans has become more overweight than the previous generation.

In his book “How Not to Diet, “ Dr. Greger summarized part of the cause for this in the statement “you are what your mom ate,” a takeoff on the saying “you are what you eat.” He goes on to say that “fetal nutrition, evidenced by an abnormally large birth weight, seems to be a strong predictor of obesity in childhood and later in life.” Following are two interesting examples of what he’s talking about:

  • A “test tube baby” with a skinny biologic mom but born to an obese surrogate mom has a greater risk of obesity than a baby with an obese biologic mom born to a skinny surrogate mom. In other words, the fetal intrauterine environment is more important than genetics in transmitting obesity to the next generation.
  • Studies have been done on siblings born to morbidly obese mothers, some before and some after obesity surgery. The siblings born before the surgery—when obesity was creating inflammation and metabolic derangement such as insulin resistance—had a significantly higher risk of developing severe obesity later in life than did the siblings born after the obesity surgery.

The reason the environment in the womb is more important in determining future obesity than genetics is epigenetics--environmental factors that turn genes on and off. If you are thinking of getting pregnant, and want to do what you can to have a normal-weight child who becomes a normal-weight adult, try to attain ideal body weight before getting pregnant.

There is another interesting component to this:  A female fetus has all the eggs she will have the rest of her life. Therefore, the uterine environment a woman provides when pregnant with a daughter can even—through epigenetics—affect her grandchildren.

Of course, there also factors in the home environment as a child is growing up that have a bearing on whether they develop childhood or adult obesity. If the parents eat lots of vegetables, fruit and whole grain; and if they avoid sugary, processed, and fatty food; if they’re physically active; and if they maintain ideal body weight; the child will be much less apt to end up overweight or obese.

A good example of diet trumping genes in causing obesity is the Pima Indians of Arizona and northern Mexico. Their traditional diet was beans, squash, corn, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. Obesity and diabetes were unknown. Then, in the mid-19th century the water source to irrigate these crops--the Gila river--was diverted by white settlers. The U.S. government provided sugar, white flour, lard, and canned goods to the Indians. The Pima now have the highest rate of obesity and diabetes of any group in North America. The genetically-similar Pima living across the border in Mexico maintained more of their traditional lifestyle and are not afflicted by these diseases.In summary, to break the cycle of ever-worsening obesity, maintain a healthy food environment for your child in utero and throughout childhood.

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