Putting on excess weight or having high blood sugar levels during pregnancy can “imprint” obesity in children, researchers have claimed.
A new study has suggested babies born at a “normal” weight of between 5lbs 8oz and 8lbs 13oz had a heightened risk of becoming obese by the age of 10 if their mothers were overweight or had raised glucose levels.
Previous studies have shown both risk factors are linked to a higher risk of delivering a large baby who would go on to become obese but it is thought the new research, published in the Maternal and Child Health journal, is the first to suggest a link in healthy weight newborns.
Dr Teresa Hillier, the study’s lead author, said: “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.
“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.”
The US study analysed 24,000 mothers and their children, born between 1995 and 2003, over a 10-year period.
It found children of mothers who had gestational diabetes, which leads to high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, were nearly 30 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese between the ages of two and 10, compared with mothers who had normal blood sugar levels. And women who gained 40lbs (18kg) or more during pregnancy had children who were 16 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese between two and 10, against mothers who put on less weight.
Dr Hillier, of healthcare firm Kaiser Permanente’s Centre for Health Research, added: “We can’t wait until the baby is born to determine and address the impact on childhood obesity.
“We need to intervene during the mum’s pregnancy to help her with nutritional and lifestyle changes that will result in healthy weight gain, healthy blood sugar and ultimately, healthy children.”
Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said midwives in the UK were “in denial” about the need to monitor pregnancy weight gain, unless women are already obese.