Findings from a small pilot study suggest the role of mothers in controlling the diet of their kids in early childhood is crucial to preventing obesity in later life.
Obesity, defined as a Body Mass Index over 30, is a risk factor for a host of illnesses including heart disease, hypertension and respiratory disease.
Of concern, in Europe and the US the number of children overweight is rising. According to data from the International Obesity Task Force (IOFT) the number of European kids overweight is rising by a hefty 400,000 a year.
"It is possible that the differences detected among biological obese mothers and their infants could affect the body composition of their infant as they age," write the study authors Russell Rising and Fima Lifshitz.
They observed four obese and three normal weight women and their four to five month old babies, over a period of 24 hours. The mothers were left to interact with their babies and feed them as they would normally, using their normal milk formula and complementary solid food if they wished to.
Their results show that three out of the four obese mothers fed their babies an average of 19.7 kcal per body weight more than normal weight mothers. The children of the obese mothers consumed more energy as carbohydrates, provided mainly by complementary food, whereas their energy intake from protein and fat was the same as that of other children.
The obese mothers also spent less time feeding their children, and less time playing or interacting with them: over 24 hours the obese mothers spent 381 minutes interacting with their children while normal weight mothers spent 570 minutes. As a result, children of obese mothers spent more time sleeping.
"Though there were a small number of infants studied the results suggest that differences do exist on how mothers interact with their infants, depending on their body composition," write the authors.
Excess energy consumption early in an infant's life of those born to obese mothers, possibly accelerated with complementary food intake, might set the stage for future childhood obesity, they conclude.
All the children followed during the study had the same average weight, the same metabolic rate, were as physically active and spent the same average energy over 24 hours.
Assuming that approximately 4900 kilocalories are needed per kilogram of body weight gain, it would take the infants of obese biological mothers a considerable amount of time to become obese, if they would continue ingesting this amount of excess calories each day.
"This might explain why investigators report that it takes up to two years before a noticeable gain of body fat is observed in young children," say the authors.
In line with previous studies, which claim that obesity does not manifest itself until 2 years of age.
Full findings are published in this month's edition of Nutrition Journal.