by Tracy Wittaker

Eat now, explain later

Obese mothers endanger their offspring

Pregnant and obese spells trouble
Obese mothers endanger offspring

Experts analysed data for 37,709 babies delivered between 1950 and 1976 in who were now aged 34 to 61. Their mother's weight was recorded during her first antenatal appointment in pregnancy.

The results showed that offspring were 35% more likely to have suffered an early death from any cause by the age of 55 if their mother had been obese in pregnancy (body mass index of 30 or over).

This held true even after other factors were taken into account, including mother's age, socioeconomic status, sex of the child, birthweight and their current weight.

Experts concluded: "Maternal obesity is associated with an increased risk of premature death in adult offspring. As one in five women in the United Kingdom is obese at antenatal booking, strategies to optimise weight before pregnancy are urgently required."

Among the 28,540 mothers, 21% (5,993) were overweight at their first antenatal appointment and 4% (1,141) were obese.

Among the 37,709 children, there were 6,551 deaths from any cause, with the leading cause of death being heart disease (24% of deaths in men and 13% in women). This was followed by cancer (26% of deaths in men and 42% in women).

The experts, from the universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, said the results were a " major public health concern", especially seeing as only 4% of mothers in the study were obese.

They added: "Our results suggest that the intrauterine environment has a crucial and long lasting effect on risk of premature mortality in offspring."

One theory behind the findings is that being overweight in pregnancy may cause permanent changes in appetite control and energy metabolism in the unborn child, leading to a greater risk of heart problems later in life.

Professor Rebecca Reynolds, of the Tommy's Centre for Maternal and Fetal Research at the University of Edinburgh, said: "As obesity among pregnant women is rising, along with levels of obesity in the general population, our findings are of major public health concern.

"This study highlights the need for more research to better understand and prevent the impact of obesity during pregnancy for offspring in later life and the biological processes at work."

Dr Sohinee Bhattacharya, of the University of Aberdeen, added: "This study highlights the importance of weight management in mothers and their offspring.

"We need to find out how to help young women and their children control their weight better so that chronic disease risk is not transmitted from generation to generation."

Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which part-funded the study, said: "We know that a mother's health in pregnancy can affect the health of their unborn baby.

"But this study suggests an association between a mother's weight in pregnancy and her child's risk of dying prematurely in adulthood.

Jacqui Clinton, health campaigns director at Tommy's, said: "This new study adds to a growing body of evidence that obesity during pregnancy can have a long-term impact on children, affecting their adult weight, health and even their life expectancy.

"If we are to tackle obesity in the UK, we need to start at conception and help mums to limit the impact of their weight on their babies. Research shows that eating a healthy diet and taking moderate exercise while pregnant can make a big difference.

"Looking after a baby's health while in the womb may not only increase the chances of a healthy birth, but of a longer, healthier life."

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