Well-Being Medical Advances

Pregnant women’s weight less likely to influence children’s weight than previously thought, study finds

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Story at a glance

  • The BMI of a pregnant woman is not as likely to affect her child’s BMI as much as previous research suggests, according to a new study.
  • BMI is more influenced by environmental factors, according to the study published early this month in the journal BMC Medicine.
  • Interventions addressing obesity should focus more on the entire population, rather than women of reproductive age, study authors said.

The body mass index (BMI) of a pregnant woman is not as likely to affect her child’s BMI as much as researchers had previously believed, according to a new study, suggesting the measure, which is used to track fluctuations in weight, is more influenced by external factors.

Overweight children with a BMI greater than 24 were more likely to be overweight or obese because of environmental factors, like living close to fast-food restaurants, rather than their mother’s weight when she was pregnant, according to a study published early this month in the journal BMC Medicine.

In this case, “environmental factors” can include anything that makes children eat more and exercise less, Tom Bond, a senior research associate at the University of Bristol and the study’s lead author, told CNN Monday.


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Using data from both the Children of the 90s and the Born in Bradford longitudinal studies, researchers tracked the BMI of study participants from birth to 4 years old. Researchers also studied the BMI of participants at ages 10 to 15 but only used data collected from the Children of the 90s study.

While researchers found a correlation between the BMI of a mother and the weight of her child at birth, that causal relationship faded as the child grew older.

“Although the BMI of teenagers is linked to their mothers BMI, this is more likely due to inherited genes and lifestyle factors rather than effects in the womb,” Bond told CNN.

Study authors argue that the conclusions suggest interventions to reduce obesity should target the entire population, rather than women of reproductive age. Children should also have better access to healthy foods and more open green spaces.

That said, a high BMI can still negatively affect a pregnancy by increasing the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and gestational diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is also a positive association between BMI and blood pressure, which can cause some serious pregnancy complications like preeclampsia.


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