Moms Pass on More Than Genes

Overweight before and during pregnancy linked to later health problems in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Researchers already knew that overweight moms generally gave birth to children who became overweight too. But the health impact of obesity during pregnancy doesn't stop there.

A recent study has found that being overweight before or during pregnancy can impact the health of a mother's children even in their later adult years, including high blood pressure and excess blood levels of sugar and fat.

"Lose weight before getting pregnant."

Hagit Hochner, a researcher in the Hebrew University's Hadassah Braun School of Public Health, led a study looking at the effects of a mother's weight on the long-term health of her children.

The researchers gathered data on 1,400 people born in Jerusalem from 1974 to 1976. Among the information they collected was the child's birthweight and the weight of the mother before and during pregnancy.

Then the researchers located these people when they were 32 years old to collect data on their weight, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI, a ratio of their height to their weight used to determine obesity or normal weight status), hip width and blood levels of sugar (insulin resistance) and fat (triglycerides levels).

They found that the children, now in their 30s, who had been born to mothers who gained more than 31 pounds while pregnant had measurements indicating several health risks that their counterparts, born to mothers who gained 20 pounds or less while pregnant, did not have.

For example, the children of overweight moms tended to have a BMI about 5 kg/m greater, waist circumference an average 8.4 cm greater and hip measurements an average 10 cm wider than their counterparts born to moms of a healthy weight.

Those born to moms who were in the upper fourth of BMI measurements before they became pregnant (over 26.4 kg/m) also had higher levels of triglycerides and cholesterol than those in the lowest fourth (with BMIs under 21 kg/m).

The researchers concluded that the risk factors for conditions like heart disease that appeared in the assessments of the children mainly stemmed from their being overweight. Therefore, it's the overweight mothers' influence on their children's overweight status later in life that is primarily responsible for the other health concerns.

The authors stated that the poor health issues in the children of overweight mothers could be affected by something other than the mother's pregnancy weight, such as hereditary or environmental influences during pregnancy.

"In an age of an 'overweight epidemic' in the world, it is important to know the factors that are involved in leading to overweight and other health risks," said co-author Orly Manor.

"This understanding makes it essential that we identify those early windows of opportunity in which we can intervene in order to reduce the risks of chronic illness later in life."

The study appeared online May 13 in the journal Circulation. The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Israeli Science Foundation. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 16, 2012
Last Updated:
July 31, 2012