Birth by c-section: a risk for childhood obesity?

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Both Travis and I are at that age when our Facebook feed is becoming dominated by photos of our friends’ babies; many of my close friends have added an adorable member to their family over the past few years.

A while back, my partner Marina and I watched a fascinating documentary by ex-talk show host, Ricki Lake, entitled “The Business of Being Born.”The documentary exposes the many changes have occurred surrounding the way women give birth in US hospitals, namely the increased use of drugs and increased rates of caesarean sections – two factors that expedite the process. Here is a small clip from the documentary which I highly recommend watching:

Although I am no expert in gynecology and obstetrics, I have long-wondered what these changes in hospital procedures can have on the health of the mother and baby. Sadly, a recent study I came across  suggests that babies born by c-section are at higher risk of obesity in early childhood compared to those born vaginally.

In the study, the authors assessed a total of 1255 children at age 3 and compared the body weights and body composition of those born via c-section (284 births or 22.6%) to those born naturally.

Here’s what’s interesting: at age 3, 15.7% of children delivered by c-section were obese compared with 7.5% of children born vaginally. The obesity rates were more than doubled for c-sections!

Of course, there could be a number of confounders to this relationship. For example, maybe the women that received c-sections tended to be heavier, and thus the relationship was merely one of heavy women having heavy babies. However, the authors performed further analysis where they took into consideration the following factors: maternal age, education, race/ethnicity, pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), and child age, sex, and birth weight. All things being equal, a baby born via a c-section had double the risk of being obese by age 3 by comparison to a baby born vaginally.

While the authors speculated on a few possible reasons for this observation, the cause remains unknown.

What does appear to be possible is that birth by c-section may be yet another risk factor for obesity that we have no control over – much like the genetics handed down to us by our parents.

Peter

Reference:

Huh SY, Rifas-Shiman SL, Zera CA, Edwards JW, Oken E, Weiss ST, Gillman MW. Delivery by caesarean section and risk of obesity in preschool age children: a prospective cohort study. Arch Dis Child. 2012 Jul;97(7):610-6.

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