A new study has unearthed evidence that childhood obesity can be prevented if expectant mothers are treated for gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy).
Researchers at Kaiser Permanenteâ€™s Center for Health Research (CHR) in Portland and Hawaii used the organizationâ€™s integrated databases to analyse medical records of 9,439 mother-child pairs.
The women in the study were screened during pregnancy for blood sugar level and gestational diabetes, and their children were measured for weight between the ages of 5 and 7â€”known as the “adiposity rebound” period, a strong predictor of adult obesity. The relationship between maternal blood sugar and childhood obesity was then analysed.
The researchers found that the risk of childhood obesity rises in tandem with a pregnant womanâ€™s blood sugar level, and that untreated gestational diabetes nearly doubles a child’s risk of becoming obese by age 5 to 7.
It was also found that treating gestational diabetes lowered the child’s risk of becoming obese during childhood to the same levels of those pregnant mothers with normal blood sugar levels.
“The key finding here is that the risk of overweight and obese children rises in step with higher levels of blood sugar during pregnancy. The good news for pregnant women is that by treating gestational diabetes, your children’s risk of becoming overweight or obese drops considerably,” said Dr. Teresa Hillier, an endocrinologist and senior investigator at CHR Northwest and Hawaii, and the lead author of the study.
“My advice to pregnant women is three-fold: Discuss gestational diabetes screening with your doctor, usually between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy; if you have gestational diabetes, work with your physician to treat it, and stick with the treatment during your pregnancy. It’s the best thing you can do to reduce your child’s risk of obesity,” she added.
Children of mothers with high levels of blood sugar who were untreated were 89 per cent more likely to be overweight and 82 per cent more likely to be obese by the time they were 5 to 7 years of age, compared to children whose mothers had normal blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
â€œThe obesity risk of children whose mothers had the highest blood sugar levelsâ€”and were treated for gestational diabetesâ€”was not statistically different than children of mothers with normal blood sugar levels. This suggests that the ‘metabolic imprinting’ for childhood obesity that results from gestational diabetes in pregnant women may be reversible,” Dr. Hillier said.
The study has been published in the journal Diabetes Care .