If Maternal Grandmother is Obese, So is Grandchild?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Great Grandmother” by David Amsler is licensed under CC BY 2.0Rebecca Somerville MB BCh BAO, BMedSci, MRCPI, MPH, PhD
School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science
University College Dublin
Dublin, Ireland 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: Rates of obesity in the Western world have increased dramatically over recent decades. The negative health consequences of obesity are well known and significant amounts of research have been conducted into the causes and possible solutions. While it is clear that there have been massive changes in diet and physical activity at a societal level that are primarily responsible for this ‘obesity epidemic’, it is less clear the extent to which obesity, once established, or risk factors for same, can be perpetuated down generations. Family studies lend opportunity to explore these questions, however there are few world wide which incorporate 3 generations.

We therefore sought to examine patterns of central adiposity, as measured by waist circumference, between grandparents and their grandchildren, separately in maternal and paternal lines. We were able to utilize prospectively collected data from the Lifeways Cross-Generation Cohort Study. This is a longitudinal birth cohort, established in Ireland in 2001, involving up to 7 members of the same family (mother, father, child and 4 grandparents). In the 589 families where a child had a waist circumference measurement we found that, at the age of both 5 and 9, there was a direct relationship between the waist circumference of the maternal grandmother and her grandchild (both male and female). This remained after adjustment for a wide range of confounding variables including mother’s waist circumference. There was no relationship seen with any of the other grandparents.

 MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

 Response: The results suggest a strong and continuing relationship between maternal grandmother and grandchild adiposity. When a stronger maternal than paternal effect is seen, consideration is often given to mitochondrial or intrauterine pathways. One must also consider the possibility that the maternal grandmother plays a larger role in many grandchildren’s lives than other grandparents, either indirectly through the mother, or by directly influencing the grandchild. Thus, the results seen may also reflect an environmental effect.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: To our knowledge, this was the first time the relationship between grandparent and grandchild central adiposity had been examined.  Replication of these findings in other cohorts would be of immense interest, especially ones with access to radiological imaging or genetic material. There are numerous potential clinical and public health implications, for example the involvement of grandparents in family-based interventions for childhood obesity, or targeting obesity prevention strategies at young women and girls, in light of the potential to impact multiple generations.  

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Factors that promote or mitigate against obesity across the life course do not exist in isolation. Cross-generation transmission is likely just one of these factors. However, given the potential effects on not only those already affected by obesity, but also subsequent generations, we feel its importance should not be overlooked.

This study was funded by the Health Research Board of Ireland. 


Pediatr Obes. 2018 May 9. doi: 10.1111/ijpo.12290. [Epub ahead of print]

Childhood central adiposity at ages 5 and 9 shows consistent relationship with that of the maternal grandmother but not other grandparents.

Somerville R1, Khalil H1, Segurado R1, Mehegan J1, Viljoen K1, Heinen M1, Murrin C1, Kelleher CC1.

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Last Updated on May 22, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD