Maternal weight gain linked to child health

25 October 2018

Recent research shows that too much or too little weight gain during pregnancy might have an adverse impact on child health, as measured at the age of seven.

The study, carried out by Chinese University of Hong Kong endocrinologist Professor Ronald Ma (Croucher Fellowship 2001), together with Professor Wing Hung Tam from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, evaluated the relationship between pregnancy weight gain in women and cardiometabolic risk in their offspring.

The team invited 905 mother-child pairs in Hong Kong to participate in the research and classified them into three groups – those having gained weight below, within or exceeding the USA’s Institute of Medicine guidelines and standardised gestational weight gain values.

Among the 905 women, the mean pre-pregnancy BMI was 21 kg/m2, with more than 8 per cent of the group considered overweight or obese. The average weight change from pre-pregnancy to delivery was 15kg. In total, 17 per cent of the participants gained weight below the recommended level, 42 per cent within it, and 41 per cent exceeded the level.

The research team identified a link between women’s pregnancy weight gain and several cardiometabolic risk factors in their children. Research showed that women who gained more weight than the recommended level had offspring with larger body size when they reached the age of seven, along with problems such as higher body fat, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Meanwhile, women who gained less than the recommended level had offspring with increased risks of high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

The findings suggested that the effect of maternal weight gain on childhood cardiometabolic risk was not confined to the upper and lower extremes of gestational weight gain, but that the relationship formed a U-shaped continuum.

The study was published in Diabetologia.

Ma said: “These findings have important implications for both prevention and treatment. There is a need for greater awareness and monitoring of weight gain during pregnancy. Pregnancy might be a potential window of opportunity for intervention and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through modifiable behaviours, including maternal nutrition and physical activity.

“Although limiting excessive weight gain may help minimise the intergenerational cycle of diabetes and obesity, the benefits of lower weight gain must be balanced against other cardiometabolic risks – such as high blood pressure and poorer blood sugar control – and risk of stunted growth in the offspring, if weight gain is inadequate.”

The team will continue to evaluate the effects of maternal weight gain and diabetes on cardiometabolic risk in adolescence and adulthood.

Dr Ronald Ching Wan MA is a Professor in the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a specialist in Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes at Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong. He is a Past President of Diabetes Hongkong. He completed his medical training at the University of Cambridge, UK, and trained in Internal Medicine in London. He returned to Hong Kong to complete his endocrinology fellowship training before being awarded a Croucher Foundation Fellowship. He furthered his research interest in the area of diabetic complications at the Joslin Diabetes Center, Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the International Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians (FIGO) Committee on Pregnancy and NCD Prevention.

To view Professor Ma’s Croucher profile, please click here.