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  • Posted March 8, 2024

Look to Your Parents for Your Odds of Obesity: Study

Folks worried about becoming flabby in middle age should check out what their parents looked like when they were that age, a new study says.

People are six times more likely to become obese in middle age if both their parents were chubby during that time of their lives, according to research to be presented at the European Congress on Obesity in May.

Further, having just one obese parent more than triples a person's odds of middle-aged obesity, researchers found.

These findings demonstrate that the established association between childhood obesity and parental weight doesn't fade as a kid ages, said lead researcher Mari Mikkelsen, a doctoral research fellow of community medicine at the Arctic University of Norway.

“Obesity in childhood, and especially in adolescence, tends to follow the individual into early adulthood, and so we suspected it would also follow them into middle age,” Mikkelsen said in a meeting news release.

“We found that this is indeed the case -- children whose parents lived with obesity are much more likely to be in living with obesity themselves when they are in their 40s and 50s, long after they have left home,” Mikkelsen added.

For this study, researchers analyzed health data on more than 2,000 parent-offspring pairs who took both took part in an ongoing health research project called the Tromso Study

All the offspring were between 40 and 59 when they participated in the seventh wave of the Tromso Study, which took place in 2015 and 2016. Their parents participated in the fourth wave of the Tromso Study when they were in the same age range, back in 1994 and 1995.

Researchers found that a parent's BMI directly influenced their child's BMI.

Offspring BMI increased by 0.8 units for every 4-unit increase in the mother's BMI, and by 0.74 units for every 3.1-unit increase in the father's BMI.

A mom with obesity raised the risk of middle-aged obesity 3.4 times, and an obese dad raised obesity risk 3.7 times.

If both parents were obese, a person was six times more likely to be obese in middle age.

Most likely, a combination of genetics and environment causes a parent's weight to affect the subsequent weight of their kids, Mikkelsen said.

“Genes play an important role by affecting our susceptibility to weight gain and influence how we respond to obesogenic environments in which it can be easy to eat unhealthily,” Mikkelsen said.

“Some studies also speculate that children tend to develop similar dietary and exercise habits to their parents when they all live together under the same roof, resulting in a similar BMI status,” she added.

Future research should delve into finding the exact factors that influence a person's weight, and seeing whether those risks can be mitigated, Mikkelsen said.

In the meantime, here are 18 ways to try to lose weight safely and sustainably.

Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on obesity.

SOURCE: European Congress on Obesity, news release, March 7, 2024

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