Women who gain excessive amounts of weight while they are pregnant increase their child’s chance of becoming obese before the age of 12 by eight percent. According a recent study examining the “biological effects of maternal overnutrition,” childhood obesity statistics can be curved through programs that stress limited weight gain during pregnancy.

"Excessive pregnancy weight gain may make a significant contribution to the obesity epidemic," explained David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., the study's senior author. "Children born to women who gained excessive amounts of weight lbs. or more–during pregnancy had an 8 percent increased risk of obesity."

Ludwig, who is also the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital, identifies several factors that could influence the link between pregnancy weight gain and childhood obesity. A mother and child share genes, similar environmental influences, as well as socioeconomic and demographic circumstances.

Co-authors of this study examined the birth records of 41,133 mothers from Arkansas who had given birth to two or more children, along with each child’s school records. After a statistical comparison of body mass index (BMI) between siblings at the age of 11.9 years, the research team established an eight percent increased chance of a child becoming obese if a mother had gained significant weight during her pregnancy.

"From the public health perspective, excessive weight gain during pregnancy may have a potentially significant influence on propagation of the obesity epidemic," Ludwig added. "Pregnancy presents an attractive target for obesity prevention programs, because women tend to be particularly motivated to change behavior during this time.”

Here are a few suggestions, from nutritionist Barbara Quinn, for keeping the extra pounds off during pregnancy:

  1. Determine your healthy weight range by calculating your BMI. “Multiply your pre-pregnant weight (in pounds) by 703. Divide that total by your height in inches. Divide that total by your height in inches again to get your BMI value," Quinn says.
  2. Women should track their weight gain during pregnancy by using their BMI as a guideline. Women at normal weight should gain around 10 lbs. by the 20th week of pregnancy, and women who are considered overweight should gain around 5 lbs.
  3. Adopt a “nutrient-dense” diet that is low in saturated fat and consists of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, fish, and poultry. "The quality of daily food intake is the most important and most ignored factor determining pregnancy outcomes,” says the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Currie J, Rouse H, Ludwig D. Mom's weight gain during pregnancy tied to childhood obesity. PLoS Medicine. 2013.