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Kids’ Obesity Linked to Mother’s Health Problems in Pregnancy

About one out of every five kids and teens in the U.S. fits the definition of childhood obesity: being at or above the 95th percentile of body mass index (BMI) for their age and sex.

A child with obesity is more likely to experience a whole range of other problems too, from high blood pressure and joint problems to anxiety and depression. Some risk factors for obesity are well-known, like socioeconomic status and diet. But some factors start even before birth, and these have not been as thoroughly explored.

Now, a new paper in Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics shows a link between the co-occurrence of two pregnancy conditions, and a greater risk for the baby to develop an increasing BMI as they grow. While there is evidence that each of these conditions—preeclampsia and gestational diabetes—can independently lead to a high childhood BMI, their combined effect was unknown until now.

“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,” said Melissa Huang, Ph.D. student in the lab of Professor Yoko Nomura (The Graduate Center, Queens College) and first author on the study.

Gestational diabetes stops the body from effectively using insulin during pregnancy, causing blood sugar to rise. Preeclampsia is a more serious and potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication in which the mother experiences high blood pressure and often damage to the kidneys or liver.

The new study kept track of 356 mothers and their children, from 18 months to 6 years old. They found that when a pregnant mother has both conditions at once, the child is more likely to develop a high BMI than if the mom has either condition alone. Co-occurring preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, then, could act as a marker to identify kids at high risk for obesity, the authors say.

Beyond SUM

Work By

Melissa Huang (Ph.D. student, Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience) | Profile 1
Yoko Nomura (Professor, Psychology) | Profile 1