Like Mother, Like Daughter? Moms Pass Obesity Risk to Girls

Marlene Busko

March 21, 2023

Girls between 4 and 9 years old were more likely to have high fat mass and a high body mass index (BMI) if their mothers had excess adiposity — but this relationship was not seen between mothers and sons, or between fathers and sons or daughters, in a new study.

The researchers measured fat mass, lean mass, and BMI in the sons and daughters when they were age 4 (before a phenomenon known as "adiposity rebound"), ages 6-7 (around the adiposity rebound), and ages 8-9 (before or at the onset of puberty).

They also obtained measurements from the mothers and fathers when the offspring were ages 8-9.

The group found "a strong association between the fat mass of mothers and their daughters but not their sons," Rebecca J. Moon, BM, PhD, and colleagues report.

"It would be important to establish persistence through puberty," according to the researchers, "but nonetheless, these findings are clinically important, highlighting girls who are born to mothers with high BMI and excess adiposity are at high risk of themselves of becoming overweight/obese or having unfavorable body composition early in childhood."

The mother–daughter relationship for fat mass appears to be established by age 4 years, note Moon, of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, University of Southampton, UK, and colleagues.

Therefore, "early awareness and intervention is needed in mothers with excess adiposity, and potentially beginning even in the periconception and in utero period."

Because 97% of the mothers and fathers were White, the findings may not be generalizable to other populations, they caution.

The results, from the Southampton Women's Survey prospective cohort study, were published online March 21 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

One of the First Studies to Look at Fat Mass, Not Just BMI

Children with overweight or obesity are more likely to have excess weight in adulthood that puts them at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoarthritis. Previous research has reported that children with overweight or obesity were more likely to have mothers with adiposity.

However, most prior studies have looked at BMI alone and did not measure fat mass, and  it was not known how a father's obesity might affect offspring or how risk may differ in boy versus girl children.

Researchers analyzed data from a subset of participants in the Southampton Women's Survey of 3158 women who were aged 20-34 in 1998-2002 and delivered a liveborn infant.

The current study included 240 mother-father-offspring trios who had data for BMI and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans (whole body less head).

Mothers were a mean age of 31 years at delivery and had a median pre-pregnancy BMI of 23.7 kg/m2.

The offspring were 129 boys (54%) and 111 girls.

The offspring had DXA scans at ages 4, 6-7, and 8-9 years, and the mothers and fathers had a DXA scan at the last time point.

At ages 6-7 and ages 8-9, BMI and fat mass of the girls reflected that of their mothers (a significant association).

At age 4, BMI and fat mass of the daughters tended to be associated with that of their mothers, but the 95% confidence interval crossed zero.

There were no significant mother–son, father–son, or father–daughter associations for BMI or fat mass at each of the three studied ages.

The study received funding from the Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation, the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, the Seventh Framework Program, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Horizon 2020 Framework Program, and the National Institute on Aging. Moon has reported receiving travel bursaries from Kyowa Kirin unrelated to the current study. Disclosures for the other authors are listed with the article.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Published online March 21, 2023. Abstract

For more diabetes and endocrinology news, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.