U.S. program aims to help babies beat obesity odds

Mon Mar 16, 2009 3:58am EDT
 
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Elena Nieves hardly looks like a poster girl for an obesity program for pregnant moms.

The 5-foot-8 (1.7-meter) 23-year-old recently lost more than 50 pounds (23 kg) and looks healthy. But 15 weeks into her third pregnancy, she was gaining the weight back -- too fast.

"I found out I was pregnant in December. I didn't go to the doctor until mid-January and I had already gained 15 pounds (7 kg)," said Nieves. Having struggled with excess weight in her last pregnancy, she decided to take action.

Nieves became the newest member of an experimental program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago designed to help pregnant mothers keep their weight in check.

It is based on new research suggesting that excessive weight gain in pregnancy hurts both the mother and her fetus, raising the risk of complications during pregnancy and putting the child at risk for obesity and diabetes later in life.

"We've known for a long time that children of overweight mothers are more likely to be overweight themselves," said Dr. Robert Kushner, who directs the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity.

But he said researchers had assumed that was simply because the mother passed along her bad eating and lifestyle habits to her child after birth. Now, animal studies suggest the environment the fetus is growing in influences the genes.

"The whole idea is, as that child comes out of the birth canal, you've already imprinted that child's vulnerability to be overweight," Kushner said.   Continued...

 
<p>Elena Nieves (L), who is pregnant, gets instruction from Exercise Physiologist Lindsey Hanna at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago February 27, 2009. Nieves is the newest member of an experimental program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital designed to keep their weight in check. It is based on new research suggesting that excessive weight gain in pregnancy hurts both the mother and her fetus, raising the risk of complications during pregnancy and putting the child at risk of obesity and diabetes later in life. REUTERS/John Gress</p>