Could Your Pregnancy Diet Make Your Child Obese?

What a woman eats during pregnancy can have a long-lasting effect on her child's odds of becoming obese, according to a new study. Here's why you should care.

Could Your Pregnancy Diet Make Your Child Obese? gpointstudio/Shutterstock

You know that what you eat while pregnant is incredibly important—but this might surprise you: According to a recent study, what a woman eats during pregnancy can influence her child's odds of becoming obese during adolescence.

Fat and fetuses

Researchers from the University of Glasgow examined the link between a mother's pregnancy diet and her child's size, finding that fetuses with more fat in them tend to become overweight years later.

After looking at umbilical cord blood samples and information about the subjects' weights during adolescence, researchers determined that the markers leptin, which is known as the "satiety hormone," and adiponectin, a protein hormone that controls several metabolic processes, can indicate how much fat a baby will have later in life. The researchers looked at data from 5,011 mothers and children and found that more leptin in cord blood led to greater fat mass, waist circumference and body mass index when the subjects were between 9 and 17 years old.

Satiety vs. obesity

Leptin's function in the body is a bit complicated—it's known as the "satiety hormone" because it actually puts out a signal when you've eaten enough. But here's the thing: Leptin is made by fat tissue, so the more fat you have, the more leptin your body produces. That's why it's not so surprising that the presence of high levels of leptin in cord blood could indicate obesity later in life.

Cord blood adiponectin was also positively linked to greater fat mass and waist circumference at age 17—but the link wasn't there when subjects were nine years old. Adiponectin is a hormone that plays a role in insulin resistance and metabolic processes. It certainly has an important role in the body, but this research seems to indicate that overfeeding your fetus could produce too much of it, which could in turn lead to your child's obesity.

"Birthweight was positively associated with fat mass, waist circumference and body mass index at age 9 and 17," Joy Simpson, lead study investigator and clinical research fellow maternal and reproductive health at the University of Glasgow, U.K, said. "Fetal overnutrition may facilitate fetal growth and fat accretion, as determined by cord leptin and birthweight, and may program greater adiposity in the child that extends into childhood and adolescence."

A time of balance

This study illustrates the importance of maintaining balance in your diet during pregnancy. Keeping tabs on your weight and not overdoing the whole "eating for two" thing is so important, as failing to do could set your child up for weight issues later in life. It's also important to stay aware of your baby's weight during infancy—another recent study found that obesity can be predicted when a baby is as young as six months old. Yet another study finds that body mass index during infancy can predict a child's chances of becoming obese years later.

Our advice? Reward the occasional ice cream craving but try to stick to lean, healthy foods and sensible portions during pregnancy and try not to view this time as a period of all-out indulgence. It's not just about the way you look or the number on the scale—your child's health could be affected by what you choose to eat.