Today’s post comes from Taniya S. Nagpal. Taniya is a PhD candidate at Western University. She is also the current Special Events Coordinator of the CON-SNP National Executive. You can find more about Taniya here

What if there was a way to prevent obesity before birth and what if there was a way to prevent obesity for not just one but potentially two generations? Research has shown that there is a way: Physical activity and nutrition behaviour change during pregnancy! Pregnancy is known as a “teachable moment” because women are thinking about changing lifestyle habits to improve their health and the health of their future child (Ruchat and Mottola, 2012). In fact, pregnancy is known to increase the likelihood of smoking cessation and abstinence from alcohol without an intervention (Nagpal et al., 2017, Pollak et al., 2010, Ockene et al., 2002). Women may also think about making healthy behaviour changes by increasing physical activity and improving their eating habits (Ruchat and Mottola, 2012). Pregnancy is not a time to “eat for two” but to “eat twice as healthy” (Quote from Dr. Michelle Mottola, American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting 2017).

Physical activity and nutrition interventions during pregnancy improve health outcomes for both the mom and future child. Benefits include prevention of diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy, reduced risk of caesarean sections, healthy baby birth weight, and prevention of excessive maternal weight gain (Thangaratinam et al., 2012). Baby birth weight is a predictor for the future risk of obesity and is influenced by the fetal environment. Examining evidence from the Dutch famine time point provided evidence for the impact of maternal nutrition and the future onset of obesity for the offspring (Ravelli et al., 1999). During the famine, women were given limited amounts of food to eat (approximately 400 – 800 calories per day) and at the end of the famine, food rations increased to approximately 2000 calories per day. Research has shown that women who were exposed to the famine in the first trimester had small for gestational age (SGA) babies, and at age 50 these babies had higher adiposity and were more likely to be obese (Ravelli et al., 1999). Research has also shown that women who gain excessive weight during pregnancy are more likely to have large for gestational age (LGA) babies with high adiposity and these babies are three times more likely to have childhood and adulthood obesity (Weissgerber et al., 2006). Women that were sedentary during pregnancy are more likely to have a bigger baby whereas women that participate in physical activity during pregnancy are more likely to have an appropriate birth weight baby (Fazzi et al., 2017). Appropriate weight gain during pregnancy also reduces post-partum weight retention and this can help prevent maternal obesity (Haugen et al., 2014). Therefore it is important to help expecting mothers make healthy decisions including nutrition and physical activity to promote appropriate weight gain and baby birth weight.

Recent research has also shown that perhaps it’s more than two generations that will benefit from healthy behaviour change during pregnancy, it could actually be three. Recently, Dr. Michelle Mottola (Director of the R. Samuel McLaughlin-Foundation Exercise and Pregnancy Laboratory) presented the President’s lecture at the 2017 American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting and suggested that a healthy lifestyle may influence several generations. The “egg that formed you was created when your grandmother was pregnant with your mom”. This may mean that if we can support expecting mothers with making healthy behaviour changes during pregnancy we can prevent excessive gestational weight gain, promote appropriate baby birth weight and potentially influence obesity prevention in the third generation. Pregnancy is the ideal time to intervene to establish healthy habits and prevent obesity for current AND future generations!


For more information about healthy behaviour change during pregnancy and additional publications please visit the R. Samuel McLaughlin-Foundation Exercise and Pregnancy Laboratory website

For guidelines on how to safely participate in physical activity during pregnancy please refer to the PARMedX for Pregnancy (will be updated in 2018) available at:

Want to get involved with the Canadian Obesity Network Students and New Professionals, get creative and share your work as an infographic. Visit the following link to learn more and get published online:


  1. Fazzi, C., Saunders, D.H., Linton, K., Norman, J.E., and Reynolds, R.M. Sedentary behaviours during pregnancy: A systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act, 14(1), 32.
  2. Huagen, M., Brantsæter ALWinkvist ALissner LAlexander JOftedal B et al. (2014). Associations of pre-pregnancy body mass index and gestational weight gain with pregnancy outcome and postpartum weight retention: a prospective observational cohort study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, doi: 10.1186/1471-2393-14-201
  3. Nagpal, T.S., Fagan, M.J., and Prapavessis, H. (2017). Treatment options for smoking cessation in pregnant women: A narrative review. Medical Research Archives, 5(7), 1-15.
  4. Ockene, J.K., Ma, Y., Zapka, J.G., Pbert, L.A., Goins, K.V., Stoddard, A.M. (2002). Spontaneous cessation of smoking and alcohol use among low-income pregnant women. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 23(3), 150-159.
  5. Pollak, Denman, Gordon, Lyna, Rocha, Brouwer, et al. (2010). Is pregnancy a teachable moment for smoking cessaiton among US lation expectant fathers. Ethn Heal, 15(1), 47–59.
  6. Ravelli, A.C.J., van der Meulen, J.H.P., Osmond, C., Barker D.J.P., Bleker, O.P. (1999). Obesity at the age of 50 y in men and women exposed to famine prenatally. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70, 811-816.
  7. Ruchat S.M and Mottola M.F. (2012). Preventing long term risk for obesity for two generations: Prenatal physical activity is a part of the puzzle. Journal of Pregnancy, doi:10.1155/2012/470247
  8. Thangaratinam, S., Rogozinska, E., Jolly, K., Glinkowski, S., Duda W., Borowiask, E., et al. (2012). Interventions to reduce or prevent obesity in pregnant women: A systematic review. Health Technology Assess, doi:10.3310/hta16310.
  9. Weissgerber, T.L., and Wolfe, L.A. (2006). Physiological adaptation in human pregnancy: Adaptation to balance maternal-fetal demands. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 31(1), 1-11.

Related and New Read:

Kebbe, M., Damanhoury, S., Browne, N., Dyson, M.P., McHugh, T.L.F., Ball, G.D.C. (2017). Barriers to and enablers of healthy lifestyle behaviours in adolescents with obesity: a scoping review and stakeholder consultation. Obesity Reviews, DOI: 10.1111/obr.12602

Photo by Brandon Koch/Flickr/CC-by-SA 2.0