Obesity and its serious comorbidities, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, have reached epidemic proportions in adults and children. Female obesity is more prevalent and, thus, has greater epidemiological importance: Mothers transmit the disease epigenetically and genetically. Maternal obesity affects maternal health, pregnancy outcome, and fetal, neonatal, childhood, and ultimately adult morbidity and mortality. Obesity is easy to diagnose, as are most of its risk factors, yet very little progress has been made in preventing the disease.
During a brief period of rapid early growth, there is imprinting of antecedents of adult obesity and obesity-related disease. Because of the rapidity of this early growth and the relative brevity of the critical period, early recognition and prompt intervention are necessary and possibly sufficient to prevent the development of obesity. Identification of inappropriate rapid weight gain through frequent weighing should trigger immediate adjustment of energy intake, a simple intervention in bottle-fed infants, the ones at greatest risk for becoming obese.
This review presents a step-care strategy with fail-safe action levels starting with maternal education and diet, exercise, and behavior modification for mother and child and progressing to drug treatment and, in selected cases, laparoscopic surgery for young women of childbearing age in whom other measures have failed. This approach is predicated on the assumption that careful monitoring and responsive supplementation of potential deficiencies is easier to achieve, more cost-effective, and safer than effectively treating manifest obesity and its comorbidities in adults.