Childhood obesity is emerging as a global public health crisis, but it could be prevented by making sure expectant mothers receive proper nutrition before and during pregnancy, according to a recent study.

Researchers behind the study, which was published in BMC Medicine, found that when mothers take supplements with probiotics, myoinositol and vitamins B2, B6, B12 and D before giving birth, their children have less rapid weight gain and obesity by the age of 2.

"Preventing obesity is one of the most important things we can do, as treating obesity is much more difficult. These findings suggest the period before and during pregnancy may provide a special opportunity — a time when supporting better nutritional status for mothers could have lasting benefits for their child," said the study's chief investigator, Professor Keith Godfrey from the University of Southampton and NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Center.

The study involved 500 participants who were randomly allocated to two groups, where one group received the enriched supplement while the others took a standard pregnancy supplement.

The researchers followed up with all the participants and checked the weights of their children at the age of 2. They observed that children born to mothers in the enriched supplement group were only half as likely to be obese compared to those who received the standard supplement (9% versus 18%). Additionally, these children were almost 25% less likely to have undergone rapid weight gain after birth.

"Our data suggests supplementing moms before and during pregnancy can have benefits way beyond the pregnancy and for the women involved. It can impact their baby into childhood and potentially beyond," said the study's lead researcher, Wayne Cutfield of the Liggins Institute in Auckland.

The researchers plan to follow up with children participants between 6 and 8 years old.

The impact of a mother's nutrition on their child's health may not be always evident straight away but will reflect as the child grows, according to a co-author of the study, Shiao Yng Chan from the National University of Singapore.

"As the child grows, the things that happened in the baby's body while in the womb become apparent. These early events, sometimes called fetal programming, can influence how the child reacts to an unhealthy lifestyle, like eating lots of fatty foods and not getting enough exercise. This can make some children more likely to become overweight," the co-author explained.