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Baroness Benjamin: Addressing maternal obesity is crucial if we want children to live long and healthy lives

4 min read

Baroness Benjamin highlights the key findings of a report which suggests that maternal obesity is a contributor to long term adult health.

I always say 'Childhood lasts a lifetime' and that applies before a child is born. That's why the latest report from the APPG on A Fit and Healthy Childhood, (of which I am Co-Chair) published on 27th June 2017, is crucial. This new report is on the thorny question of 'Maternal Obesity'.

It is our eighth study into what our children, the future adult population, require to ensure that the United Kingdom is in tip top shape in terms of health and economic productivity.

A thriving country is dependent upon a fit and focused population – so it's essential that we begin with children; the life-force and future of our nation.

In our previous reports, we call for a new Cabinet post, a Minister for Children with the remit to audit policies in all Departments for their outcomes in relation to child health and wellbeing. We have considered the role of the family, food in school and the teaching of healthy eating, play and physical education, an evaluation of the Government’s National Obesity Strategy and the early years’ ‘window of opportunity.’ Now in our Maternal Obesity report we discuss pre-pregnancy, pregnancy planning, pregnancy proper and the postnatal experience. If we are what we eat, we must understand that what we eat also affects the unborn baby who is dependent upon the choices its parents will make before birth for the course of his or her own independent life.

Today, an expectant mother is bombarded with contradictory advice from a variety of sources, professional, family or peer group, media and of course the influential celebrity culture. Whilst it's commonly believed that ‘eating for two’ will produce a blooming mum and a bonny baby, the latest national and international research reveals that obesity and overweight in pregnancy can lead to long-term complications. These include difficult or still birth, neural disease, child obesity leading to adult obesity and a range of diseases incurring a sometimes deadly cost in terms of health and as we all know, financial overload upon the NHS.

Our report calls for the UK to establish its own method of body weight measurement. That means training so that all professionals can feel confident in raising the question of weight in a sensitive manner, regular measurement to be embedded into the antenatal experience, pre-pregnancy education as part of the National Curriculum as well as clear Government guidelines for the management of weight pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy and during the postnatal period.

We recognise the key role that advertising and media play in messaging and suggest that a body such as the World Health Organisation might devise a unified international standard of care. Astonishingly, a pregnant woman in some countries may be advised by her GP to continue smoking five cigarettes a day to avert the ‘shock to the system’ of giving up and to drink a glass of red wine per day ‘for the red blood cells.’ Such ‘advice’ is totally unacceptable but it shows that most importantly, pregnant women and their partners need to know that they can trust what the professionals are telling them. Hopefully this report will play its part in bringing this about. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we hope to persuade policy makers that ‘eating for two’ is not the best start for the life course. There are already some excellent models of good practice, highlighted in our report, from which Government might learn when producing its own strategy.

Let's make sure we do all we can to give every child a fit and healthy start in life, we owe it to them.

Slimming World have stressed the importance of 'healthy conversations' between healthcare professionals and prospective parents about the impact of maternal obesity. Read their full recommendations here

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Read the most recent article written by The Baroness Benjamin OBE - Baroness Benjamin: How to ensure our children are able to enjoy the benefits of modern technology