Overweight in pregnancy affects children's life expectancy
What effects does existing overweight of mothers have on the life expectancy of children? Belgian scientists from Hasselt University have investigated this question in a recent study. The result is worrying: if women are overweight before pregnancy, the telomeres are drastically shortened. Shorter telomeres are associated with reduced life expectancy.
The behavior and constitution of the mother has many-sided effects on the development of the offspring. Especially during pregnancy, massive impairments can easily occur if mothers consume alcohol, smoke or take certain medications. Existing overweight during pregnancy can also cause lasting damage to the child. The current study has now made it clear that obesity among mothers could affect the life expectancy of their offspring as a whole to a relatively large extent.
Relationship between maternal weight and telomere length
As part of the study, the research team led by Tim Nawrot from Hasselt University in Belgium investigated possible correlations between the mother's body mass index (BMI) and the telomere length in the offspring. "The length of the newborn's telomeres is very variable at birth" and the causal environmental factors for this have so far remained "largely unknown", the scientists report in the specialist magazine "BMC Medicine". They therefore asked whether overweight during pregnancy has an impact here. The mean relative telomere lengths in the umbilical cord blood were measured in 743 pregnant women and an additional sample from the placental tissue was examined in 702 test subjects.
Newborn telomere length decreases with increasing maternal BMI
The average age of the mothers was 29.1 years (with a range of 17 to 44 years) and the mean BMI before pregnancy was 24.1, the scientists write. The evaluation showed a significant decrease in the length of newborn telomeres with increasing maternal BMI before pregnancy. According to the researchers, this effect was detectable regardless of other factors such as maternal and paternal age, parental education, birth weight or tobacco consumption of the mothers.
Children of obese mothers biologically up to 17 years older
According to the results of the Belgian researchers, every increase in the BMI above normal weight by a full digit was associated with a reduction in the telomere length by 0.5 percent in the umbilical cord blood and by 0.66 percent in the placental tissue. This is equivalent to an aging of the telomeres by 1.1 to 1.6 years. Based on the length of the telomer, "newborns from obese mothers were biologically about 12 to 17 years older than newborns from mothers of normal weight," the scientists report. Conversely, the life expectancy of children could be shortened accordingly.
A high BMI in mothers poses numerous risks for children
The researchers also confirmed in their study that an increased BMI before pregnancy was also associated with more Caesarean sections, pregnancy complications and a higher birth weight. Overall, the effects of maternal body weight on children's health should not be underestimated and the study provides further evidence of the importance of weight loss in the case of overweight. According to the researchers, women of reproductive age should also pay more attention to their weight in terms of the molecular longevity of their children. (fp)