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Dublin: 10°C Monday 19 April 2021

Children of women who gain excess weight during pregnancy are more likely to be obese

The study followed 24,000 women.

Image: Shutterstock/Subbotina Anna

CHILDREN WHOSE MOTHERS put on excess weight during pregnancy are more likely to be overweight or obese.

A new study by US health group Kaiser Permanente published in the journal Maternal and Child Health followed 24,000 women for ten years.

It is the largest study ever on the topic and the first to show that excess weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels increase the likelihood of childhood obesity even in babies who are normal weight (5.5 to 8.8 pounds) at birth.

Previous studies have shown that excess weight gain and elevated blood sugar during pregnancy increase a woman’s risk of delivering a large baby who is more likely to become an obese child; however, until now, there wasn’t much evidence that these risk factors also affected normal-weight babies.

“When women have elevated blood sugar and gain excess weight during pregnancy, it seems to change the baby’s metabolism to ‘imprint’ the baby for childhood obesity,” says Teresa Hillier, MD, lead author and senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research.

“We’re not sure yet of the exact mechanism of this change, but it appears the baby is adapting to an overfed environment, whether from glucose or extra weight.”

All children of mothers who had elevated blood sugar during pregnancy were at higher risk for childhood obesity, but those whose mothers had gestational diabetes – the highest level of elevated blood sugar – were at the greatest increased risk.

Those children were at least 30 percent more likely to be overweight or obese between the ages of two and ten, compared to children whose mothers had normal blood sugar.

The authors say this study shows that the effect in the womb on the baby’s metabolism may be as important as what happens after the child is born.

“We can’t wait until the baby is born to determine and address the impact on childhood obesity,” said Hillier, who is an endocrinologist.

“We need to intervene during the mom’s pregnancy to help her with nutritional and lifestyle changes that will result in healthy weight gain, healthy blood sugar and ultimately, healthy children.”

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