A mother's excess weight gain or elevated blood sugar levels in pregnancy may put her child at increased risk for being overweight or obese, a new study finds.
"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," said study lead author Dr Teresa Hillier. She's a senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.
"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," Hillier said in a Kaiser news release.
Researchers analysed data from more than 24,000 mothers and their children in three states, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. All the children were normal weight (5.5 to 8.8 pounds) at birth and were followed to age 10.
Those children whose mothers had elevated blood sugar during pregnancy were at increased risk for obesity, the study found. The risk was greatest when mothers had gestational diabetes, the highest level of elevated blood sugar.
Read: Gestational diabetes explained
Compared to children whose mothers had normal blood sugar during pregnancy, those whose mothers had elevated blood sugar were at least 30 percent more likely to be overweight or obese by age 10, the study found.
Intervention during pregnancy
Compared to children whose mothers gained less than 40 pounds during pregnancy, those whose mothers gained more than that were at least 15 percent more likely to be overweight or obese during their first decade.
Read: Overweight baby girls at risk of heart disease
Women should gain no more than 40 pounds during pregnancy, according to the Institute of Medicine.
The study findings were published in Maternal and Child Health Journal.
More than one-third of American children and teens are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We can't wait until the baby is born to determine and address the impact on childhood obesity," Hillier said. "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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