Childhood obesity is the leading chronic illness of today’s adolescents and youth, and African-American school-aged girls suffer from it the most, said Hugh Mighty, a national expert on improving maternal health and birth outcomes.

As one of Maryland’s top obstetrician/gynecologists, Mighty spoke on childhood obesity and its preventions at Advocates for Children and Youth’s (ACY) policy and advocacy briefing on April 28.

“We have to care before, during and after pregnancy,” he said. “If we’re not there before conception then we’re already late in the game.”

By 2012, Mighty said 50 percent of children in the U.S. will be obese, and obese children are more likely to develop type II diabetes and other serious medical complications. Root causes of the increasing ailment are nutritional choices, decreased activity, and genetics and metabolic programming.

“Today, children are expected to have lower life expectancy than their parents,” he said.

Furthermore, Mighty said more than half of women of childbearing age in the U.S. are obese and that a shift in how Americans view prenatal care is necessary to birth healthier babies. The U.S. ranks 39th in the world for infant mortality, with Black babies accounting for 13.7 percent of infant deaths- double the rate of infant mortality among White babies. Mighty said intervention before pregnancy can prevent infant/child obesity as well as birth defects, preterm births- which the U.S. leads the world in- and maternal deaths.

While he pointed out that women who are uninsured qualify for health insurance for the duration of their pregnancy, Mighty also noted that prenatal care is about personal decisions as much as it is about visiting the doctor.

“You have a choice in what you eat and drink,” he said.

Mighty is the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the chair and associate professor of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.