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Active Voice: More Maternal Physical Activity May Lead to Leaner Pre-Adolescent Children

from by James M. Pivarnik, Ph.D., FACSM and Erin Kuffel, M.S.

Active Voice is a column by ACSM experts in science, medicine and allied health. The viewpoints expressed do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM. NOTE: The research discussed in the following feature was presented at the 57th ACSM Annual Meeting June 2-5, 2010. Lanay Mudd and Sarah Bartholomew were co-authors on this presentation.

James M. Pivarnik, Ph.D., FACSM, is a professor in the Departments of Kinesiology and Epidemiology at Michigan State University. He directs the Center for Physical Activity and Health and is the University Research Integrity Officer. His research focuses on health aspects of exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Jim is immediate past president of the ACSM and leader of the 2009-2010 ACSM “Exercise is Medicine™ On Campus” initiative.

Erin Kuffel is a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University. She will obtain her Ph.D. in Kinesiology with a specialization in exercise physiology in Spring 2011. Her research interests are the effects of physical activity during pregnancy on both the mother and child. For this particular project, Erin played an integral part in data collection, analysis, and interpretation. She is a student member of ACSM and presented part of this research at the 57th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

The prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity is approximately 32 percent and behavior modifications are necessary to curb this epidemic. Oftentimes, child physical activity (PA) levels and diet are examined, as they are obviously the keys to energy balance. There is some evidence that the in-utero environment, including maternal physical activity during pregnancy, may also be involved with energy balance. However, this behavior has not been well-studied with respect to a child's body size. Our line of research on maternal physical activity during pregnancy on child health includes the effect on child’s body size at age 8-10 years. We found that a mother’s current aerobic fitness was inversely related to her child’s body mass index (BMI), percent fatness, and waist circumference at age 8-10 years. We hypothesized that the mother’s current aerobic fitness acted as a surrogate of pregnancy fitness level and possibly enhanced the in-utero environment. Thus, our study participants who were more aerobically fit currently were also fitter during pregnancy and currently have children with lower body size and fatness. This finding supports the notion that fitter women provide an in-utero environment that supports growth less likely to predispose their infant to high body fatness. more

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