Obesity legacy of mums-to-be: Carrying too many pounds in pregnancy can give your baby a life of weight problems

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UPDATED:

06:43 GMT, 15 May 2012

Overweight mothers-to-be could be condemning their unborn children to decades of ill health.

Babies whose mothers were carrying extra pounds when pregnant are more likely to be fat and unhealthy as adults, researchers say.

While it is well known that overweight mothers-to-be risk having big babies who grow into overweight children, this study is one of the first to show the legacy can still be felt years later.

Children whose mothers put on lots of weight while carrying them were likely to be overweight adults

Children whose mothers put on lots of weight while carrying them were likely to become overweight adults (posed picture)

Not only does it affect weight but
overall health, including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-sugar
levels. This could raise the risk of a host of illnesses, from strokes
to diabetes and heart attacks.

The findings, from a study of women who gave birth in Jerusalem in the
mid-1970s and their children, come amid fears that obesity among
pregnant British women is reaching epidemic proportions.

Almost half of women of child-bearing age are overweight or obese and
more than 15 per cent of pregnant women are dangerously overweight.

The researchers weighed and measured 1,400 men and women aged 32 and did
a series of blood tests. The results were then compared with data
collected about their mothers when they gave birth to them.

The
analysis, published in the journal Circulation, showed clear links
between the two.

The adults whose mothers were the most overweight before becoming
pregnant were heavier than the sons and daughters of the lightest women.

Waistlines were on average more than three inches bigger, blood pressure
and levels of dangerous blood fats were higher, and readings for ‘good’
cholesterol lower.

Larger children are more likely to be rooted to the couch than encouraged to exercise

Larger children are more likely to be rooted to the couch than encouraged to exercise

Men and women whose mothers put on a lot of weight while pregnant were
also more likely to be too heavy for their height as adults.

Lead
researcher Dr Hagit Hochner, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
said: ‘We know now that events occurring early in life to foetuses have
long-lasting consequences for the health of the adult.’

Study co-author Professor Orly Manor added: ‘In an age of an “overweight
epidemic” in the world, it is important to know the factors that are
involved in leading to overweight and other health risks.

'This
understanding makes it essential that we identify these early windows of
opportunity in which we can intervene to reduce the risks of chronic
illness later in life.’

It is believed mothers may pass on ‘fat’ genes and unhealthy eating habits to their children.

But conditions in the womb are also thought to be important. For
instance, exposure to high amounts of sugar and fat may lead to
long-lasting changes in appetite control or the storage of fat.

Obese mothers-to-be are more likely to need a caesarean section and are
at greater risk of losing blood while giving birth. Their children are
more likely to be stillborn or die in the first weeks or months of life
and to suffer other birth defects such as club foot or cleft lip.

Concern about the issue is so high that British doctors have started to
medicate babies in the womb. In an NHS trial, overweight mothers-to-be
in four cities are being given the diabetes drug metformin in a
desperate attempt to stop their babies being born obese.

If the trial is a success, the treatment could be in widespread use
within five years, with tens of thousands of obese mothers-to-be drugged
each year.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said the Israeli study
underlined how ‘desperately important’ it was for women to get in shape
before they conceived.