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Obesity can be passed down from parents to kids

A study from Norway has found that adults are much more likely to develop obesity if their parents also battled with weight issues. This means that your family history could play a surprising role in your weight, even after you’ve grown up and left the nest.

“Previous research shows a strong association between parents’ and their children’s obesity status but few studies have investigated whether this intergenerational transmission of obesity continues past adolescence and into adulthood,” explained lead researcher Mari Mikkelsen from UiT Arctic University of Norway.

“We were interested in how parents’ BMI is related to their offspring’s BMI when the offspring is well into adulthood and has lived away from home for a long time.”

Obesity among parents

Mikkelsen’s team examined data from the Tromsø Study, focusing on obesity rates among individuals aged 40-59 and their parents. 

The researchers discovered that people whose parents were both obese in middle age were six times more likely to be obese themselves. Even if only one parent was obese, the child’s risk of obesity as an adult was three times higher.

Family genetics and lifestyle 

Obesity is more common in some families due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle. Genes can make individuals either more likely to gain weight or to have trouble losing it.  

This might be because of how their bodies use food, store fat, or control hunger. On top of genes, our surroundings also matter a lot. Families often eat similar foods and do similar amounts of exercise.  

If a family mostly eats unhealthy foods or doesn’t exercise much, this can lead to weight gain over time. Research shows that both genes and the environment we grow up in with our families play a role in how likely we are to be obese. 

Influence of obesity genes in childhood

There’s a strong connection between how much a child weighs and how much they’ll weigh as an adult. The researchers suggest that even if kids who are obese make changes to their lifestyle after they move out of their parents’ house, they’re still more likely to be overweight later in life. 

This means it’s very important to deal with childhood obesity early on to avoid problems in the future. The experts also found that obesity tends to run in families, even if grown children live on their own. 

Importance of preventing and treating obesity

“Whatever the explanation, our finding that obesity that is transmitted between generations can persist well into adulthood underlines the importance of treating and preventing obesity, a condition that contributes significantly to ill health and premature death,” said Mikkelsen.

“It also lays the foundation for research into factors that influence the intergenerational transmission of obesity and that can be targeted to prevent offspring from spending their whole life affected by obesity,”

The best way to beat obesity is to start young and make healthy choices a lifelong habit. This means eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Getting regular exercise is just as important. 

By making these healthy choices early on, you’ll set yourself up for a healthy weight and avoid health problems that can come with obesity.

The Tromsø study

The Tromsø Study is Norway’s largest health project which was launched in 1974. Initiated due to high heart disease deaths, the study now covers cancer, diabetes, and other health issues across the population.

With over 45,000 participants, the study has improved preventative care. Heart disease deaths in Northern Norway have significantly dropped, matching the national average.

The findings of the study will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO 2024).


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