Children of obese mums at higher diabetes risk

Wednesday 19th June 2019

Researchers have found babies born to mothers obese during pregnancy are three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life.

The same study also found being overweight, but not obese, during pregnancy increased the risk of diabetes in a child by almost half.

A research team from the University of Edinburgh studied birth records from more than 100,000 people born between 1950 and 2011 in the Aberdeen area and linked them with the national register for diagnosed diabetes in Scotland.

This revealed around one quarter of women were overweight during pregnancy over the 60-year period.

One in ten were obese, with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40.

The findings add to the list of health problems linked to offspring of obese pregnant women, which also include heart disease, behavioural problems and early death.

Around half of all women of childbearing age are overweight or obese in the UK, recent figures suggest.

Researchers say public health interventions are urgently needed to help women who may be planning pregnancies to maintain a healthy weight.

The researchers did not look at BMI of the offspring, or other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise that are known to increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

They say shared lifestyle between mother and child could contribute to the development of the condition.

Further studies are needed to better understand how a high BMI during pregnancy leads to diabetes in offspring.

One theory is that it may cause an adverse environment in the womb, where high levels of sugar and insulin trigger metabolic processes in the foetus that lead to diabetes.

“We found an increased risk of developing diabetes in children born to obese mothers, which was not linked to sociodemographic factors,” says Professor Rebecca Reynolds, of the Tommy’s centre for maternal and foetal 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.”

The proportion of obese mothers increased five-fold from around one in 30 during the 1950s to almost one in six between 2000 and 2011.

Children from mums who were overweight or obese during pregnancy were more likely to develop either type of diabetes in their lifetime – type 1 or type 2 – but the risks were higher for type 2 diabetes.

The study was funded by babies’ charity Tommy’s and the UK Medical Research Council.

Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy’s, said: “The cycle of ill-health caused by obesity is particularly damaging to future generations.

“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.”