Maternal Obesity Linked to Child High Blood Pressure


Pregnant women who have diet-induced obesity may predispose their children to have high blood pressure at an early age. The researchers, who conducted the study at King’s College London, noted that maternal obesity may actually “hardwire” the developing infant’s brain for later development of hypertension.

High blood pressure is seen in children, even very young infants, and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke in adulthood. This is one reason why the American Heart Association recommends that all children age 3 and older have their blood pressure checked yearly. About 5 percent of children have higher than normal blood pressure, which may be caused by overweight or obesity, kidney disease, or heart disease. This latest study indicates yet another possible cause.

Researchers at King’s College London monitored the blood pressure of the male and female offspring of obese mother rats from 30 days of age. All the offspring were fed a normal healthy diet. The investigators found that both male and female offspring had a marked increase in blood pressure associated with increased activity in the central nervous system, along with alterations in heart rate that indicated changes in activity in the brain’s sympathetic nerves. The sympathetic nervous system helps regulate blood pressure.

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The researchers also noted that the increased blood pressure and central nervous system activity was probably caused by enhanced sensitivity in the sympathetic nerves to the fat hormone, leptin. Leptin is known to increase both blood pressure and nervous activity. The implication is that the mother’s obesity permanently alters the structure or chemistry of the infant’s developing brain, which results in a persistent and increased responsiveness to leptin, leading to overweight and obesity in the offspring.

Dr. Paul Taylor, one of the study’s authors, noted in the King’s College London news release that “we have shown that maternal obesity following a typical Western ‘fast-food’ diet, high in animal fat and sugar, appears to permanently ‘hardwire’ the offspring’s cardiovascular centres that control blood pressure, promoting hypertension.”

The results of this study may give mothers-to-be cause to consider their weight and eating habits before becoming pregnant. It is already known that obesity in pregnancy increases the risk of several complications of pregnancy, and there is growing evidence that maternal obesity may have long-term effects on the children as well. This latest study suggests that diet-induced obesity may increase the risk of high blood pressure among the next generation.

American Heart Association
King’s College London news release, Nov. 10, 2009