Your child’s health starts in your teens

Early intervention: Turning over a healthy new leaf during pregnancy or after your child is born is often too little, too late for your child’s health and development. — AFP

MELBOURNE: New research has revealed how starting healthy habits early in life can help ensure not only our own well-being, but also that of our children.

Carried out by an international team of researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne in Australia, and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in the United States, the new study analysed data from more than 140 recent research papers and 200 countries to look at how lifestyle habits, rather than genes, affect how health is transmitted from one generation to the next.

They found that a child’s growth and development are not only affected by the mother’s habits during pregnancy, but also by both the mother and father’s lifestyles pre-pregnancy – even as far back as the teenage years.

In particular, the findings showed the importance of tackling three main health issues in adolescence – mental health, obesity and substance abuse – in order for future parents to give the best possible start in life to their children.

Smoking, alcohol and drug use are of particular concern as use of these substances often rises sharply during adolescence, while obesity rates are on the rise worldwide, with rapid increases seen in teens and young adults, added the researchers.

Maternal obesity during pregnancy predicts later childhood obesity, poorer cognitive skills and greater childhood behavioural problems, and maternal use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs also has a negative effect on a child’s growth and development.

 However, stopping use of these substances or taking action to switch to a healthier lifestyle after pregnancy or once a child is born is often starting too late, according to the researchers.

“The health system now only kicks into action with a woman’s first antenatal visit, most often eight to 14 weeks into a pregnancy.

“We need the health service system to be engaged before pregnancy – and it should go beyond its current focus on contraception to tackle broader health risks and emotional well-being in both young women and men,” said lead author University of Melbourne professor George Patton.

He added: “The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are crucially important, but that is too late to be taking action.”

The team also believes that the age range for adolescence should be reassessed, with current research suggesting that physical and neurological growth continues into the 20s.

This, along with changes in society that are leading young people to take on adult roles at a later age, suggests that the age range for adolescence lies more between the ages of 10 and 24.

The findings can be found published online in the journal Nature. — AFP Relaxnews

Source: The Star Online (26th Feb 2018)

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