Study links obesity to moms
Women who develop diabetes during pregnancy and do not treat it run twice the risk of having overweight children at the age of 5 to 7, a Kaiser Permanente study has found.
But pregnant women with diabetes might be able to almost completely reverse the risk of having chubby children by eating well, exercising and following their doctor's treatment plan, said Teresa Hillier, senior investigator for the study by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.
Researchers followed 9,439 women at Kaiser facilities in Hawaii and northwestern Oregon, screening them for gestational diabetes in the study, "Childhood Obesity and Metabolic Imprinting," published last week in the journal Diabetes Care.
During the study, researchers followed the mothers until their children reached the ages of 5 to 7, and weighed the children again.
They found that children of mothers with diabetes who were treated had no more risk of becoming overweight than children of mothers with normal blood sugar levels, said Hillier, an endocrinologist who is based in Honolulu and Portland, Ore.
Gestational diabetes, or a high blood sugar level during pregnancy, occurs in about 4 percent of pregnant women, according to the American Diabetes Association. It usually goes away after pregnancy.
Untreated gestational diabetes can cause the baby to store more fat, resulting in fat babies, possibly requiring Cesarean sections or leading to breathing problems for the infant.
"The reason up until our study that people have been treating gestational diabetes is to prevent big babies at birth," Hillier said by phone. "The reason has not been to prevent obesity later on."
The chubby children in the study grew obese because they appear to have been "metabolically imprinted or programmed to become obese because they were overfed in the womb from their mother's high blood sugar," Hillier said. "The baby adapts to that overfed state and metabolically it's easier to store fat later on."
She said the study showed even normal-weight newborns born to mothers with untreated high blood sugar grew overweight in childhood.
The study looked at children ages 5 to 7 because it is a period when kids put on more weight in relation to height. Children who are overweight at that age have a higher risk of becoming overweight as an adult.
Hillier said the important thing for mothers to remember is to follow up with their doctors if they are diagnosed with gestational diabetes and to stick with the treatment.
The treatment usually is diet and exercise to control the blood sugars and later, if needed, medications.
"The exciting thing about our results suggest that with treatment it may not only benefit their baby during the pregnancy, but reduce their child's risk of being obese from diabetes later on in life," Hillier said.
Caucasians comprised about 40 percent of the mothers in the study, while Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese and Pacific Islanders made up about 45 percent. The study showed consistent results across all ethnic groups, Hillier said.