In a new comment piece published in the journal Nature, researchers emphasize that current efforts to prevent the increase of chronic illnesses worldwide, such as heart disease and diabetes, are not effective and that more needs to be done to protect future generations.

The team of researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK, led by the late Prof. David Barker, say that young girls and women in particular need more support so they feel more in control of their lives and have a better ability to prioritize healthy eating,

According to the investigators, previous research has shown that mothers can increase the chance of their child developing a chronic illness later in life through their lifestyle choices during pregnancy.

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Researchers say that efforts to encourage young girls and women to eat healthy are not working, and more effective strategies need to be introduced to 'empower' women to make better food choices.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that mothers who gain excessive weight during pregnancy are at higher risk of having overweight or obese children.

Evidence from past studies, alongside a better understanding of where health and disease stem from, provides sufficient evidence to suggest that women need to eat healthy long before pregnancy, according to the researchers.

Current methods 'failing'

But they say that current interventions to encourage young girls and women to adopt better diets are "failing."

"The public health approach currently used across industrialized nations (like the UK) of providing women with information about healthy eating seems unlikely to be effective," they write.

Medical News today recently reported on a study suggesting that introducing a sugary drink tax of 20% could reduce the number of UK adults who are obese by 180,000.

But the investigators say that these types of interventions are unlikely to go ahead.

"So far, public health advocates have called for regulation and legislation as a means to improve diets - an increased tax on fatty and sugary foods, for instance," they write.

"Yet this is unlikely to happen because raising the tax on soft drinks, say, is not in the interests of industry, or of politicians, who are sensitive to industry pressures and to a public who want cheap soft drinks."

Women 'need to be empowered' to make food choices

The researchers suggest that a more effective strategy would be to support women in identifying the barriers they face that prevent them from eating healthily, and to "empower" them to come up with their own solutions.

They point out that trials in the US, Canada and Australia have tested such approaches.

These strategies involved increasing people's confidence in choosing and cooking healthy foods, ensuring they have ease of access to fruits and vegetables, and adopting local media campaigns to advertise the benefits of healthy eating.

Dr. Mary Baker, of the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton and one of the study authors, says:

"Young women need to be supported to make healthier food choices, but we also need to work with government and industry to make healthy food choices easier.

The challenge for public health is to stop telling everyone what they should and shouldn't do and instead empower women, policy makers and food companies to generate consensus about what needs to be done."

Medical News Today recently compiled some tips on how to eat healthily during the holiday season.