Children born to mothers who were a healthy weight during pregnancy are 3.5 times less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when they are older, research has shown. This figure applies when compared to children born to mothers who are obese.

The research provides encouragement for achieving as healthy a weight as possible before and within pregnancy. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding sugar can prevent obesity during pregnancy, and can lower the risk of pregnancy-related complications.

This was a long-term study of more than 100,000 people born between 1950 and 2011 in Aberdee, Scotland. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh matched the data with a national register for people diagnosed with diabetes within the same location.

Research has already established that obesity during pregnancy can increase the child’s type 2 diabetes risk in later life, but the length and focus on the long-term health of the offspring in the study makes it significant.

The study said about a quarter of women were overweight during their pregnancy and one in 10 were obese. They then identified a 3.5 times higher risk of child born to these women eventually developing type 2 diabetes.

“We found an increased risk of developing diabetes in children born to obese mothers, which was not linked to sociodemographic factors,” said Professor Rebecca Reynolds, of the Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health at the University of Edinburgh.

“Our findings underline the urgent need to find ways of helping women plan for pregnancy by optimising their health – including reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Jane Brewi, chief executive of Tommy’s, said these findings have shown how obesity is “particularly damaging to future generations”.

She added: “We need wider awareness of the importance of health before conception as well as supportive and accessible programmes that help women who have a high BMI to lose weight before pregnancy and manage their weight during pregnancy.

“This would return dividends with a healthier future generation as well as reducing the many pregnancy complications associated with obesity.”

The trial was funded by baby charity Tommy’s and the UK Medical Research Council. The findings appear in the journal Diabetologia.

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