Obese pregnant women can reduce health-related risks for their unborn child by improving their diet and exercising, researchers have said.

Previous research trials have found high glucose levels in the pregnant mother can trigger changes in the fetus, therefore making the child vulnerable to health conditions in later life.

The most recent study involved more than 550 obese pregnant women. Half of them were asked to improve their diet and start exercising and the other half made no changes to their lifestyle at all.

The researchers looked at DNA patterns among children who were born to mothers who developed gestational diabetes and whether a dietary and physical activity intervention had altered outcomes.

The findings suggested that making lifestyle changes in pregnant did reduce DNA changes in the child which are usually associated with gestational diabetes in the pregnant mother.

Karen Lillycrop, Professor of Epigenetics at the University of Southampton said: “These findings suggest that improvements to diet and physical activity can have an impact on the development of their children.

“These are very encouraging findings and further studies are now needed to establish whether reducing these epigenetic changes through a healthier lifestyle during pregnancy are accompanied by improved health outcomes for the children in later life.”

Professor Lucilla Poston, Tommy’s Chair of Maternal & Fetal Health and lead investigator of the UPBEAT trial at King’s College London, said: “We have known for some time that children of mothers who had gestational diabetes are a greater risk of obesity and poor control of glucose; this new research implies that epigenetic pathways could be involved.”

Tommy’s chief executive Jane Brewin said: “Obesity during pregnancy can have lifelong negative impacts on mother and baby — so one of the best things mums can do is to improve their health, including their weight, before embarking on a pregnancy.

“However, this study shows that mums who are overweight and their babies can still benefit from adopting a healthy diet while pregnant. All mums-to-be need access to healthy eating advice, and those who are overweight should be given non-judgemental practical support and encouragement to eat healthily during pregnancy.”

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