Mothers who maintain a healthy lifestyle, specifically by adhering to 5 healthy living habits, may significantly reduce the risk for childhood and adolescent obesity in their children, according to a study published in The BMJ

This prospective cohort study included 24,289 child participants paired with 16,945 mothers. All children were free of obesity at baseline and were between 9 and 14 years old at the start of the study. Over a 5-year follow-up period, 1282 children (5.3%) became obese. This effect was reduced in children whose mothers kept a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 (relative risk [RR] 0.44; 95% CI, 0.39-0.50), were non-smokers (RR 0.69; 95% CI, 0.56-0.86), exercised moderately to vigorously for at least 150 minutes per week (RR 0.79; 95% CI, 0.69-0.91), and only drank alcohol at a moderate rate of 1.0 to 14.9 g/day (RR 0.88; 95% CI, 0.79-0.99). Risk for obesity did not show a significant association with a high-quality diet in mothers (RR 0.97; 95% CI, 0.83 to 1.12). 

All 5 of these healthy lifestyle factors simultaneously resulted in a 75% lower risk for childhood obesity compared with those whose mothers did not adhere to any healthy lifestyle factors (RR 0.25; 95% CI, 0.14-0.47). Age, sex, and subgroup classifications including birth weight, gestational weight gain and age, and complications with pregnancy did not show significant associations with risk for childhood obesity. The lifestyle of children alone did not account for the link between the mother’s lifestyle and the child’s risk for obesity, but when mother-child pairs adhered to healthy habits together, the risk for obesity decreased more (RR 0.18; 95% CI, 0.09-0.37). 

The primary outcome in this study was childhood and adolescent obesity, with cutoff points for age and sex defined by the International Obesity Task Force. Multivariable log-binomial regression models were used to evaluate a child’s risk for obesity.

The study researchers conclude that “adherence to a healthy lifestyle in mothers during their offspring’s childhood and adolescence is associated with a substantially reduced risk of obesity in the children. These findings highlight the potential benefits of implementing family or parental based multifactorial interventions to curb the risk of childhood obesity.”


Dhana K, Haines J, Liu G, et al. Association between maternal adherence to healthy lifestyle practices and risk of obesity in offspring: results from two prospective cohort studies of mother-child pairs in the United States [published July 4, 2018]. BMJ. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k2486