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Health & Pregnancy

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Gestational Diabetes Ups Child Obesity

Study: Link Between Gestational Diabetes in Pregnancy and Childhood Obesity
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 28, 2007 -- Babies born to mothers with untreated gestational diabetes have nearly double the normal risk of becoming obese during childhood, but treatment to normalize blood sugar also normalizes risk, early research suggests.

Children in the study born to mothers who received adequate treatment for gestational diabetes had the same risk for becoming obese as children born to mothers with normal blood sugar.

The study is among the first to suggest that gestational diabetes is an important risk factor for childhood obesity and that this risk can be reduced by regulating blood sugar during pregnancy, says researcher Teresa Hillier, MD, MS, of the Kaiser Permanente Northwest Center for Health Research.

"High blood sugar during pregnancy results in the baby being overfed in the womb," she tells WebMD. "The result of this overfeeding may be that children become metabolically imprinted or programmed to become obese."

Diabetes-Obesity Link Explored

About 4% of pregnant women in the U.S., or 135,000 women annually, develop gestational diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

The ADA funded the latest research in an effort to determine whether gestational diabetes plays a role in childhood obesity. The study appears in the September issue of the association's journal Diabetes Care.

The study included 9,439 Kaiser Permanente health plan members who gave birth in Oregon, Washington state, and Hawaii between 1995 and 2000. All the women were screened for gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and their children's weights were recorded between the ages of 5 and 7.

A child's weight during this period is strongly predictive of his or her weight later in life.

Compared with children born to mothers with normal blood sugar during pregnancy, children born to mothers with poorly controlled high blood sugar were 89% more likely to be overweight and 82% more likely to be obese between the ages of 5 and 7.

Conversely, children born to mothers with gestational diabetes that was adequately treated were no more likely to be overweight or obese than children born to mothers with no evidence of gestational diabetes.

Many factors contribute to childhood obesity, and experts agree that the link between gestational diabetes and future weight must be confirmed in more studies.

Pediatric endocrinologist Larry C. Deeb, MD, a spokesman for the ADA, says the study helps make the case for the aggressive treatment of gestational diabetes.

"Most women are screened, but I don't know if women are being treated as aggressively as they should be," he tells WebMD. "'This study suggests that treatment could potentially make a big difference in the child's obesity and diabetes risk later in life."

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