Obesity strategies ‘failing’ because they don’t focus on babies and mothers

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Obesity strategies ‘failing’ because they don’t focus on babies and mothers

Related tags: Pregnancy, Nutrition, Infant

Anti-obesity strategies from public health experts and governments are failing because they do not take in to account pregnant women and babies, and focus too much attention on children and adults, says a top UK doctor.

The UK National Health Service (NHS) and many other countries are wasting millions on doomed anti-obesity strategies - because they do not realise that babies start to become fat even before they are born, the UK’s most senior children’s doctor has warned.

Professor Neena Modi, the new president of the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, warned that government anti-obesity campaigns directed at adults and young people “have all been failures”​, and suggested that much more effort should be devoted to pregnant women and babies instead.

“There have been millions directed to trying to intervene once obesity is established, and yet they’ve all been failures, so we need to tackle the causes,”​ said Modi – who warned that babies 'are getting fat in their mothers' wombs'.

“An obese child is going to be an obese adult and an obese adult is going to have obese children, so we’ve got a very, very vicious downward generational spiral that we need to nip in the bud,”​ Modi told UK newspaper The Times​.

According to the expert, early intervention programmes including breastfeeding and promoting healthy eating to infants are crucial to stop people becoming fat at the beginning of life.

Childhood obesity

According to Modi, one in five 11-year-olds are obese and the proportion of obese children has doubled in primary school.

Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England said that the health service would need billions of pounds more in funding to tackle the problem of ballooning obesity in children.

But Modi criticised Stevens for having “fallen into the pitfall of mistaking association with causation.”

“He’s starting off with a very useful observation: children become obese in these critical early years,”​ she said. "But I would say where did the trajectory actually start?”

“I know from my own research that it actually starts in utero and in infancy.”

obese baby

For example, Modi warned that  an obese mother with gestational diabetes is much more likely to have a baby which has more fatty tissue.

“That baby has been set on a trajectory which is leading towards obesity in childhood and adulthood,”​ she warned.

“What we don’t know yet is how we can intervene.”

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