Children born to mothers who experience gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy are at a greater risk of a higher BMI during childhood.

New findings shed some light on one way that children might be predisposed to a lifetime of higher BMI risk. The research from the US has examined childhood obesity and identified a link between the health of the mother during pregnancy and the child’s future risk of obesity.

Childhood obesity affects 18.5 per cent of young people between the ages of two and 19 in the US. Obesity is closely associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Obesity figures have rapidly soared worldwide in recent years.

In a recent study, researchers evaluated a child’s body mass index (BMI) based on whether the mother had experienced gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia during their pregnancy. The children were followed on a yearly basis from 18 to 72 months.

The team from the lab of Graduate Center, the City University of New York (CUNY) and Queens College Psychology say that in addition to diet, exercise and genetics, the results indicate a child is at a greater risk of obesity if the mother experienced gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.

Although, the association was more noticeable when the conditions co-occurred, researchers also highlight that children born to mothers with only one of these conditions are also at risk of a higher BMI, this is more evident following pre-eclampsia.

Gestational diabetes is reported to occur in 1 in 20 pregnancies. Hormonal changes and growth demands of the foetus during pregnancy can increase a woman’s insulin needs by two to three times that of normal, if the body is unable to meet this demand it can lead to high blood glucose levels in gestational diabetes.

Similar to Gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia affects up to 5% of pregnancies. The condition is characterised by high blood pressure (hypertension) which can raise the risk of health complications for mother and baby.

Lead researcher Professor Yoko Nomura said that obstetrician-gynaecologists “have experience in managing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia but they do not provide care to the children or help reduce their obesity risk. Coordinating between obstetricians, endocrinologists, and paediatricians could help prevent childhood obesity.”

PhD student Yonglin Melissa Huang added: “Prospective parents may benefit from our findings by better understanding the effects of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia on their child. These findings can provide added incentive for pregnant women and their health care providers to work closely to manage and treat these conditions during pregnancy so they can address both the mother’s safety and the child’s long-term health.”

The trial involved 356 mothers, who were recruited from OB/GYN clinics in New York, future research with larger sample sizes could offer a further insight.

Researchers noted that co-occurring gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia could have the potential to help identify children at high risk of childhood obesity, providing the opportunity for earlier intervention.


The findings have been published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics journal.

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