The eating “sins” of pregnant mothers may be visited upon their children – even when the offspring reach adulthood, according to new research conducted jointly by the the University of Washington in Seattle and the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

It has been shown for some time that a higher than normal body mass index (BMI), which measures body fat based on height and weight, during pregnancy can lead to overweight children and teenagers, but this has now been shown to have long-lasting health consequences for the children. The researchers found a direct correlation between maternal overweight and greater tendencies in their adult children toward overweight and other life-risking factors, such as high blood pressure and excess blood sugar and fat levels.

The research, published recently in the Circulation journal, was based on analysis of clinical information on 1,400 people born in Jerusalem between the years of 1974 and 1976. The data included the women’s weights before and during pregnancy and the weight of their newborns.

The researchers also collected the grown children’s clinical data at the age of 32, including their weight, blood pressure and blood sugar and fat levels, plus BMI and hip width.

The results of the research showed a clear influence of the mothers’ overweight on their children’s overweight, which in turn affected other risk factors in adulthood. Therefore, the researchers concluded that avoiding weight issues in adulthood could potentially reduce those additional risk factors associated with pre-pregnancy and pregnancy overweight.

Children of mothers who gained more than 14 kilograms during pregnancy were found to have a higher BMI than those who were born to mothers who did not gain more than nine kilograms during gestation. In addition, the adult children of overweight pregnant mothers had hip widths nearly 10 centimeters more, on average, than those who were born to mothers who were not overweight.

Similar comparisons were made regarding blood sugar and fat levels, all indicating that those born to overweight mothers had detrimental characteristics regarding their health and life expectancies as compared to those born to mothers who had not gained excessive weight.

Additional factors that require further study and could also have an influence on the phenomenon include analogous genetic traits of the mother and child as well as environmental influences during pregnancy.

“We know now that events occurring early in life to fetuses have long-lasting consequences for the health of the adult person,” said lead Jerusalem researcher Dr. Hagit Hochner.

Braun School of Public Health dean Prof. Orly Manor, who also was involved in the project, said, “In an age of an ‘overweight epidemic’ in the world, it is important to know the factors that are involved in leading to overweight and other health risks. This understanding makes it essential that we identify those early windows of opportunity in which we can intervene in order to reduce the risks of chronic illness later in life.”

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