PORTLAND, Ore., May 6 (UPI) -- Excess weight gain during pregnancy and high blood glucose can "imprint" obesity on a child before birth, increasing the likelihood for obesity, according to new research.
Researchers at Kaiser Permanente found the children of women who gained more than 40 pounds or had higher blood sugar during pregnancy are conditioned in the womb to be more inclined to obesity.
While previous studies have shown both weight and blood sugar affect newborn health, and that higher levels of either increase the risk of delivering a heavier baby, the researchers say theirs is the first to link either factor to increased obesity risk in normal weight newborns.
"What we think is happening is the baby is adapting to an overfed environment, either because of high glucose or excess weight gain," Dr. Teresa Hillier, a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, told UPI. "Metabolic imprinting, or obesity imprinting, is what we're talking about. We don't really understand why it's happening but we know it's happening."
Studies have started to show obesity can be passed from parent to child, either genetically or through parental health condition -- both from the mother and father -- suggesting intervening as early as possible in pregnancy could help children avoid obesity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends women gain no more than 40 pounds while pregnant depending on their BMI, and recommends overweight and obese women not gain more than 20 to 25 pounds.
Obesity, as well as gaining too much weight during pregnancy, increases the risk for gestational diabetes, which Hillier said suggests an early intervention is beneficial for the immediate health of the mother, and also the long-term health of the baby.
For the study, published in the journal of Maternal and Child Health, researchers analyzed medical records for 24,141 members of the Kaiser Permanente managed health system in Oregon, Washington and Hawaii -- mothers and their normal birth offspring -- between 1995 and 2003, and followed the children's weight for about 10 years.
Gestational diabetes, the highest level of elevated blood sugar, increased risk a child would be overweight or obese by age 10 by 30 percent, while excess weight during pregnancy increased the risk by 15 percent. Of mothers with gestational diabetes, more than two-thirds of children were overweight or obese by age 10, compared to just under half of mothers without the condition.
For mothers who gained excess weight during pregnancy, 53 percent of their children were overweight by age 10, compared to 46 percent of those whose mothers did not gain excess weight.
The study did not factor in diet factors, or consider methods of mitigating either weight or diabetes issues, but Hillier said exercise and following standard guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy -- gaining too little weight poses other health risks for babies -- is the best way to prevent increasing a child's risk for obesity.
"Mothers have an opportunity, based on our findings, to work with their providers to intervene during pregnancy and lower the risk factor for obesity early," Hillier said. "It gives babies a potentially fair metabolic start, to have a normal metabolism."