Adults born to obese mothers are more likely to die earlier than those born to normal weight mothers, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.
While previous studies have indicated that the offspring of obese mothers are more likely to develop cardiac risk factors like high blood sugar or high blood pressure in young adulthood, these findings are the first to examine how maternal obesity effects a person’s health beyond adolescence.
“Many large databases don’t contain information of a mother’s weight in pregnancy and don’t go long enough (to when) children are old enough…to develop heart disease,” study author Rebecca Reynolds, a professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, told FoxNews.com. “We wanted to see whether (early risk factors) translated also into an increased risk of actual cardiac events.”
Reynolds and her research team examined the birth and death records of nearly 38,000 people born in Scotland after 1950.
They found that children born to obese mothers were 35 percent more likely to experience premature death than those born to mothers at a healthy weight.
Overall, cardiac events were determined as the leading cause of death.
“We were surprised at the magnitude of findings,” Reynolds said. “And (we) saw the associations also in the mothers who were overweight, with 11 percent (being more likely to die prematurely).”
Though researchers do not know the mechanism behind the link between maternal obesity and premature death, they suspect several factors could be involved.
“(It may be) something to do with environment in the womb when the baby is developing, whether baby receives extra nutrients or there is an alteration in baby’s metabolism, physiologic structure or blood vessels and heart,” Reynolds said. “We also can’t rule out a genetic association and don’t know the post-natal environment, like lifestyle, diet and exercise.”
In the future, Reynolds and her fellow researchers hope to gain more insight into the effects of obesity on pregnancy and whether or not any of the negative health outcomes seen in children of obese parents can be prevented.
“We’re interested to know…if the amount of weight a woman gains during pregnancy would influence the outcomes,” Reynolds said. “We’re also interested to know more about the underlying mechanisms or whether we can target people for intervention in early childhood and identify those most at risk.”
Reynolds noted that children born to obese mothers are also at risk for a variety of other health problems in addition to developing early risk factors for heart disease. Babies born to overweight mothers may be at increased risk for still birth or congenital abnormalities, and they are more likely to require intensive care when born. Additionally, maternal obesity has been linked to behavioral problems like ADHD.
“Women planning a pregnancy should try to be as health weight as possible prior to pregnancy,” Reynolds said.