Weight gain in pregnancy linked to overweight in kids


2007-04-03 11:55

Pregnancy Weight Gain and Child Health

Pregnant women who gain excessive or even appropriate weight, according to current guidelines, are four times more likely than women who gain inadequate weight to have a baby who becomes overweight in early childhood. These findings are from a new study at the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and are published in the April issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"Maternal weight gain during pregnancy is an important determinant of birth outcomes," says lead author Emily Oken, instructor in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention. "These findings suggest that pregnancy weight gain can influence child health even after birth and may cause the obstetric community to rethink current guidelines."

Oken and colleagues examined data from 1,044 mother-child pairs in Project Viva, a prospective study of pregnant women and their children based at the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention's Obesity Prevention Program. The authors studied whether pregnancy weight gain within or above the recommended range increased the risk of a child being overweight at age 3 years.

In 1990, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published guidelines for gestational weight gain ("Nutrition During Pregnancy") that were motivated by evidence that low weight gain in pregnant women may cause low birth weight. These guidelines call for smaller gains in mothers with a higher body mass index (BMI) and generally permit greater gains than previous recommendations.

The IOM report remains the standard for clinical recommendations regarding gestational weight gain. However, some have questioned whether evidence is sufficient that greater gains promote better birth outcomes in modern developed nations. More weight gain may cause undesirable birth outcomes, such as increased rates of babies born at high birth weight and cesarean section, and is associated with higher postpartum weight retention and later risk of maternal obesity.

In this study, 51 percent of women gained excessive weight, 35 percent gained adequate weight, and 14 percent gained inadequate weight, according to the IOM guidelines. Women with adequate or excessive gain were approximately four times more likely than those with inadequate gain to have an overweight child, as measured at age 3. The authors defined overweight as a BMI greater than the 95th percentile for the child's age and sex.

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"Our study shows that excessive weight gain during pregnancy was directly associated with having an overweight child," says Oken. "Just like adults, children who are overweight are at higher risk for a number of health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol."

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