12. Oct 2022

Margit Koudelka

When the baby fat remains

Childhood obesity can lead to obesity in adolescence and adulthood and health problems later in life. Weight gain is not only caused by convenience food, too much sugar and fat consumption and too little exercise, but also by the intestinal flora – in the truest sense of the word.

Caesarean section children

The more colourful the diversity of species in the intestine, the better it is for health in many ways – also in terms of body weight. Even the type of birth is decisive for the composition of the intestinal flora. In a natural – a vaginal – birth, children come into contact with the mother’s vaginal flora and the first strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria settle. Caesarean babies, on the other hand, are first colonised by germs from the immediate environment – e.g. the hospital. The serious consequences were shown in a study of 563 babies, 179 of whom were caesarean section babies. Scientists measured the weight, height and skinfold thickness of the little test subjects when they were three, six, nine and twelve months old. The result of the study: C-section babies gained more weight in the first year of life than children who had seen the light of day naturally.

Antibiotics for babies

This is also where antibiotics come into play, which are supposed to protect mothers and babies from infections during caesarean births. They change the intestinal flora and can upset the metabolism – both when taken before and during birth and immediately afterwards. Babies who received antibiotics in the first year of life were more likely to become overweight later in childhood (32.4 to 18.2% at age 12). In view of the feared resistance, the doctor should therefore carefully consider whether the administration of antibiotics is absolutely necessary.

Overweight children – what to do?

Of course, nutrition also plays an important role for (overweight) children. The World Health Organisation defines overweight on the basis of the body mass index. However, the limits for children are lower than those for adults. In order to keep the BMI within the normal range, a balanced energy intake is crucial: If more energy is taken in through food than is consumed through exercise, the body stores the excess energy in the form of fat.

Eating habits are already established in infancy, which means that parents have a role model function. However, the course for body weight is already set in the womb. The unborn child comes into contact with food through the mother’s blood. What and how much mum eats therefore has a direct effect on the child. The metabolism is formed and the body learns to manage the energy offered. Breastfeeding is also an important factor, because children absorb valuable bacteria and substances produced by them from breast milk. However, not all children can be born and breastfed naturally, and for some diseases there is no way around antibiotics. In such cases, the diversity of species in the child’s intestine should be ensured with probiotics.

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