Women have long been lectured about the importance of healthy habits during pregnancy in order to give their babies a healthy start. But now, a new study says women need to come into pregnancy at a healthy weight or risk an early death for their child later in life.
"It's a plausible finding. There's a lot of growing evidence and data in the literature that suggests offspring of overweight and obese women have high rates of multiple co-morbidities as they get older. So, some childhood things like childhood obesity, but also earlier onset of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity carried on later in life, diabetes," said Dr. Julie Phillips, an obstetrician at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
The study out of Scotland is the first ever to link maternal obesity with midlife death in offspring. Researchers analyzed the records of more than 28,000 women from 1950 to the present. The results-- adjusted for factors such as mother's age, social class, sex and birth weight of babies-- showed children born to obese moms have a 35 percent higher risk of premature death. And that's a major public health concern for doctors, who say 64 percent of women in the U.S. in their child-bearing years are now overweight; 35 percent are obese.
"These are national statistics and it is true a third of our population are obese; two-thirds of our population are overweight. And reproductive-age women fall right into that same demographic, so we are seeing over half of our patients coming to pregnancy overweight," Phillips said.
So, what exactly happens to the babies born to those moms that causes them to die so many years later in midlife?
"That's really not known right now," Phillips said. "There's a lot of research into figuring out what it is that predisposes people to all of these adverse outcomes later in life, but there is a theory that an adverse intrauterine environment-- either undernutrition or overnutrition-- somehow changes the fetus' metabolic profile or inflammatory markers, something that really sets the stage for disease later on in life."
So, doctors say it's critical that women shed their extra weight before becoming pregnant, not only to give their children a healthy start to life, but a better chance of living a long one, too.
The study was recently published in the British Medical Journal.
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