Easy · Human Biology

Will your lifestyle impact future generations?



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In the past 25 years, there has been a massive growth in research into how diseases originate. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are responsible for 70% of deaths worldwide. Maternal status, the extent to which maternal well-being is within normal limits, influences the environment that the embryo experiences. There is a link between a complication in maternal status and the offspring having an increased risk of NCDs in later life. A prime example is that maternal obesity is associated with an increased likelihood in their offspring being overweight or obese, and this obesity raises the individual’s risk of developing a NCD.

The main issue with this concept of maternal obesity influencing the risk of NCDs is that it is difficult to intervene. While research has provided evidence that maternal obesity increases the risk of childhood obesity, how can we instil these findings? Should we teach teenage girls that their future children’s wellbeing depends on them caring for their own bodies, where there is a risk that they may not listen or fully understand? Or do we set up schemes where expectant mothers are educated on how to alter their lifestyle, even though it may be too late for these mothers to make a change? Perhaps medical experts could identify children that are at a higher risk of developing NCDs by looking at choices their mother made during pregnancy, and they could then be monitored and taught how to combat their potential increased risk of disease? While these options are all feasible, they all possess problems that need a solution.

LifeLab is a scheme set in place by the University of Southampton, and aims to educate teenagers in science and health literacy to positively impact their understanding of adolescent health-related issues. Through LifeLab, there has been an increase in understanding amongst teenagers that the food they consume now will affect their own future health, and the health of children they may have in the future. The education of young people, particularly women, is paramount in reducing the incidence of NCDs in the future.

It is important that young women learn about gestational nutrition as it has been suggested that there are five major risk factors that increase the risk of childhood obesity: maternal obesity, excessive gestational weight gain, smoking during pregnancy, vitamin D deficiency, and a short duration of breast feeding. When compared to children whose mothers had none of these risk factors, those whose mothers had a combination of four or five risk factors were fivefold more likely to be obese by the time they were six years old. These obese children are at a disadvantage, and are more at risk of developing a NCD in later life than children of a normal weight.

Obesity is a disease that has a multitude of negative effects, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and an increased risk of many other NCDs. In our Westernised society, it is imperative that we push for there to be a decrease in obesity to reduce the number of NCDs and to cut NHS costs. With research into the developmental origins of disease, it could be possible to “nip obesity in the bud” and reduce the incidence of overweight in children by teaching mothers that their status during pregnancy could have a negative effect on their own children in later life.

Find out more about LifeLab here: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/lifelab/about/index.page

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