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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eating for Two

posted by on August 10 at 11:18 AM

The sphere-o-sphere is going to hate this op-ed in today’s NYT:

But the results of several studies suggest that the very fact of a woman being obese during pregnancy may predispose her children to obesity. For example, one study found that children born to women who have lost weight after radical anti-obesity surgery are less likely to be obese than siblings born before their mother lost weight. Another study looked at women who gained weight between pregnancies; the results showed that babies born after their mothers put on weight tended to be heavier at birth than siblings born beforehand. Since the mother’s genes haven’t changed, the “fat” environment seems likely to be responsible for the effect.

If this is right, it raises the alarming possibility that the obesity epidemic has a built-in snowball effect. If children born to obese mothers are, owing to the environment in the womb, predisposed to obesity, they may find staying thin especially hard. Reversing the epidemic may thus rest on helping women to lose weight before they conceive and helping them to eat a balanced, non-junk-food diet while they are pregnant. The well-being of the next generation may depend on it.

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"gaining for two" is more like it. and no, nothing about this study's results surprises me. we tend to focus more on genetic than fetal environment, and this study points up how important fetal environment is. in the cloning studies, for instance, significant differences are found in the supposedly "identical" offspring that can only be attributed such uterine-condition differences.

Posted by ellarosa | August 10, 2008 11:37 AM

I would want to read the cited study more closely. I question the premise of increased birthweight as a predictor of obesity later in life. Yes, increased maternal weight increases the likelihood of gestational diabetes and increased birthweight, but I doubt increased birthweight as a stand-alone factor.
(BTW, you have a Lane Bryant banner on the right side of the page. Not sure what to say about that.)

Posted by Madashell | August 10, 2008 12:05 PM

Another study looked at women who gained weight between pregnancies; the results showed that babies born after their mothers put on weight tended to be heavier at birth than siblings born beforehand. Since the mother’s genes haven’t changed, the “fat” environment seems likely to be responsible for the effect.

Two things I thought were true, someone correct me if I'm wrong:
1. birth weight has nothing to do with your obesity later on,
2. younger siblings tend to be heavier at birth than the first in line, why I don't know, but if the mother's hips do get wider after the first one, then that's a bit of a blessing.

I always think of my childhood friend who was thin as a rail, weighed 11 lbs at birth, and had 4 older siblings.

Posted by Phoebe | August 10, 2008 12:09 PM

oops I meant to put the first paragraph in quotes. ugh.

Posted by Phoebe | August 10, 2008 12:11 PM

There are studies linking *low* birth weights with obesity later on (if someone demands a source, I can find it), so I do question the big baby = future fat child-premise. Anecdotally, I've known fit people who've mentioned they were 9+ pound babies.
I think the discussion that Dan is sort-of baiting here is whether women should be vessels of purity before breeding. Add this to recent other recommendations of what women should do in advance of trying to become pregnant and it gets all Handmaiden's Tale-like, frankly.
Yes, one should try to eat well and be as healthy as possible when trying to have a baby, but the brow-beating is a bit much. Besides, with regard to the obesity issue, there are many other ways to prevent - ie better access to nutrition, communities that promote outside play/activity, etc, etc.

Posted by Madashell | August 10, 2008 12:25 PM

Having recently gone through the pregnancy thing, I can say there was plenty of encouragement to eat a healthy well-balanced diet from my care provider. On top of that, my insurance company has some well-mother program which was incredibly eager to make sure I was on the right track; so much that they called every couple days to ask if I was enrolled and how everything was going. It was freaky, actually. So anyway, the cult of making sure pregnant women are doing the right thing is well established already, thanks.

Posted by poltroon | August 10, 2008 12:31 PM

I know plenty of overweight people who have skinny mothers who didn't gain much EXCESS weight during pregnancy. Their fathers were generally overweight.

I also know a couple petit women who gave up ginormous babies because they have tall or large fathers. (The tall one was skinny as a rail).

Phoebe is generally correct. Subsequent births are generally larger than the first birth. In addition to this, there was some speculation that a daughter born quickly after a son (in fairly rapid succession pregnancies), weighted less due to decreased nutrients.

I find this Op-Ed to be uninformed. The second study quoted is silly. Are we now going on about the ugliness of baby fat? Should babies come out anorexic and looking like Kate Moss? It would be mighty hard to pinch their cheeks.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | August 10, 2008 12:32 PM

@ 5 - It's Handmaid's Tale, you idiot!

Posted by Madashell | August 10, 2008 1:11 PM

This all points to our still very basic understanding of genetics. The reality is, part of the picture is the actual genes, but gene regulation is this huuuuuuuuuuuge other part that we're only beginning to understand. That's likely what we're talking about with fetal environment. It's remarkable, really, the flexibility that we have built into our biology.

As a frustratingly active, healthy fatty, this stuff doesn't upset me. It feels encouraging. Because I'd like to understand why I'm twice the size of my friends who take shitty care of themselves. Knowledge = good.

What I know for sure is that it's complicated. Biologically and socially. A study like this is one more piece of info.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | August 10, 2008 1:17 PM

The conclusions drawn from this study are deeply flawed. The nurture effect is entirely lost. Simply having a heavy mother is more likely to make a child heavy because it is seen as more acceptable, the meals are likely larger at home etc.

Posted by Amanda | August 10, 2008 1:23 PM

"the obesity epidemic has a built-in snowball effect"

So, wait - fat people are more likely to be cum swappers?

Posted by Hee hee hee haw haw haw | August 10, 2008 1:33 PM

Like moms need something else that people can criticize them for.

You should have seen the way some people acted when they realized that my sister used formula instead of breastfed.

Posted by Jennifer | August 10, 2008 1:37 PM

"Sphere-o-sphere." Fucking awesome. Not as good as santorum, but it's a keeper.

Posted by Big Sven | August 10, 2008 1:40 PM

Issac Hayes just died!!!!!!!

Posted by scott in chi-town | August 10, 2008 1:40 PM

@12 That's because formula is eeeeeeeevil. EVIL!

Posted by grumpypants | August 10, 2008 1:44 PM

Shorter study:

"We know practically nothing about the way environment influences gene expression. We need more money to study this."

Posted by Greg | August 10, 2008 1:44 PM

Study, schmudy...if the mom is fat, she's gonna fatten the kid up to feel better about herself. You think a Macy's balloon wants a waif running around reminding her what a disgrace her FUPA is?

And if all the fat foods she gnaws on watching "As the World Turns" are laying around, the kid is going to eat them.

Pretty simple to me.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | August 10, 2008 1:53 PM

#15 - I can't tell if you're joking or not, because people are actually like that.

The bottle is EVIL!!!!

Posted by Jennifer | August 10, 2008 2:17 PM


Animal studies have been done showing weight differences based on fetal environment regardless of eventual calorie intake. There's some kind of gene regulation occurring.

I know, I know, the thin folks don't want ANY reason to lose even a little bit of their sense of moral superiority, but. . . this shit is more complicated than you want it to be.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | August 10, 2008 2:25 PM

There y'all go again.
So great, let's let all the skinny crackheads have babies, and keep the smart fat people from breeding, because heaven knows that you don't want another fat kid on this earth.
My kid's fat and brilliant. So maybe the former part is my fault, and my mother's before me, and blah blah blah. So the hell what? Let's focus on the latter part, cause the world needs more smart people no matter what their size.

Posted by you evil fathaters | August 10, 2008 2:34 PM

Gigantism is a natural trend in evolution sans any changes in the environment -- the Great Irish Elk...the Sabre Tooth Tiger... People have been getting taller and taller as well.

Like Woody Allen in the original "Casino Royale" my only hope is the Atomic Pill -- 400 tiny time capsules that when exploding, kill all men over 4-foot-6 and make all women beautiful.

Posted by John Bailo | August 10, 2008 3:38 PM

Agreed, 20.

Posted by Dan Savage | August 10, 2008 3:39 PM

Lovers of apathy and irony, hipsters are connected through a global network of blogs and shops that push forth a global vision of fashion-informed aesthetics. Loosely associated with some form of creative output, they attend art parties, take lo-fi pictures with analog cameras, ride their bikes to night clubs and sweat it up at nouveau disco-coke parties. The hipster tends to religiously blog about their daily exploits, usually while leafing through generation-defining magazines like Vice, Another Magazine and Wallpaper. This cursory and stylized lifestyle has made the hipster almost universally loathed.

Posted by Google the source | August 10, 2008 3:50 PM

Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.

An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it.

Posted by Google the source | August 10, 2008 4:12 PM

A child is not solely from a mother but also a FATHER, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. on back for a looooong time. It's NOT simple, it's not one person contributing, it's a whole family, times other whole families, times cultures, histories, times everything.

Quit putting all this shit on mothers.

Posted by 'Yo Mama | August 10, 2008 4:33 PM

Sven @13:Thanks!

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 10, 2008 5:21 PM

flamingbanjo I love you. there I've said it! Meet me in the restroom at Cal Anderson Park and we'll do the Larry Craig thing. Or if you don't like Republicans and consider yourself hip-we'll do the Dan Savage thing.

Posted by Fanarf | August 10, 2008 5:44 PM

"the cult of making sure pregnant women are doing the right thing is well established already, thanks."

Well, no actually.

The "cult" is only available to women who have the same kind of health insurance with the same company. It all depends on the company you work for, and how they've negotiated their contract for insurance.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | August 10, 2008 6:03 PM

And if you have no insurance at all, which is the case for a lot of people in Bush's America, then TFB for you.

Posted by RainMan | August 10, 2008 6:25 PM

correlation != causation.

Posted by z | August 10, 2008 7:44 PM

Reversing the epidemic may thus rest on helping women to lose weight before they conceive.

Good luck with that.

Also, FUPA is possibly the greatest acronym in the history of human kind.

Posted by Mike in MO | August 10, 2008 7:53 PM

Agreed @ #17

Posted by monkey | August 10, 2008 8:53 PM

I am not slender but when I was pregnant only gained about 15 pounds. (I was also pretty physically active and ate well) I had the ideal pregnancy. No complications and a very very easy labor/birth. I lost all the weight within a week of giving birth. My son was nearly ten pounds at birth and is now incredibly tall and thin.
So it won't entirely add up for everyone. I would be curious to know if the studies took into consideration how many people (at least in the U.S.) give their infants formula and how that might affect the development/health of children.

Posted by Genevieve | August 10, 2008 9:24 PM

the "cult of making sure women do the right thing" is well established in most cultures, thank you. this can be more generally described as "the cult of blaming mothers for everything wrong with their children when mothers didn't do the right thing".

pregnancy advice goes full circle, people. when my grandmother was pregnant with my father, she was worried about the amount of weight she was gaining. her doctor suggested she take up smoking, so she did.

Posted by mkone | August 11, 2008 12:39 AM

six of us - brothers and sisters

three are thin rails - three are 40 to 8o pounds over weight

this goes back to childhood - dad was big and tall and carried no extra weight, was chunky with a great figure, and married twice more after my dad died - I would never call her fat, just well rounded and quite beautiful

go figure - certainly some genetics at work

Posted by John | August 11, 2008 7:19 AM

Another avalanche of anecdotes, excuses, and rationalizing.

Hell, fat mothers reading this study likely deny their internal environment all togethar



Posted by Non | August 11, 2008 8:35 AM

Lots of you claim definative answers on a study that begs to be just the begining of a whole arena in gynocology and genetics. They are finding out in more and more studies that genetics are definately influenced during the gestation period on topics from how people manifest addictive personalities, to theories about how at different times during gestation pesonality traits and sexuality is determined. One should take these studies with a grain of salt as the body of evidence determining ANY absolutes is yet to be seen.

Posted by drone5969 | August 11, 2008 8:56 AM

I don't know about this study, since it really isn't definitive, but I do know many mothers are starting to restrict their diet, even cutting out chocolate (it has a little caffine!). I feel that this will just further divide the educated and rich from the poor and under-educated.

Which is really too bad. I know most mothers want to do what is best for their babies, they just honestly don't know how or where to find the resources.

Posted by Original Monique | August 11, 2008 9:54 AM

Purely as an anecdote, i found that exercising for an hour each day and not eating like a retard lost me 50 pounds of fat and back down to almost my high school weight of 175

I've lived with at least 3 roommates over 300 pounds, and have been on bowling teams with guys that big.

I heard a lot of excuses for failed weight loss, i had my own as well, but the main problem with all of them boiled down to too much food/not enough activity.

I only lost the weight when i committed to the hour a day time suck of excercise.

Posted by capt. tim | August 11, 2008 11:53 AM

Weight loss is not as easy for women as it is for men.

Posted by Jennifer | August 11, 2008 1:22 PM

We take another step towards imprisoning women for abusing their kids before they are born. Perhaps soon there will be special camps where pregnant women go, and have all their food and physical activity, and everything else regulated those that think that women are just vessels for unborn kids.

Posted by Barbara | August 11, 2008 1:53 PM

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