WebMD Health News
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
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."
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
Pediatric endocrinologist Larry C. Deeb, MD, a spokesman for the ADA, says
the study helps make the case for the aggressive treatment of gestational
"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."
Vanessa Hayden of Troutdale, Ore., participated in the study while pregnant
with her first child, Samantha, who is now age 7.
Hayden made lifestyle changes and took insulin during the pregnancy after
learning she had gestational diabetes.
"At the time my thinking was that I didn't want to have a 20-pound baby,
so I was determined to do what it took for my child to be born healthy,"
she tells WebMD. "I had no idea that what I was doing might be giving my
daughter an edge to lower her future risk for becoming overweight."
With a very strong family history of both type 2 diabetes and obesity,
Hayden says any edge she can give her children is important. She now has four
children between 4 months and 7 years old.
She followed her blood sugar closely with all of her pregnancies and kept it
tightly controlled with exercise, healthy diet, and insulin.
Hayden says all four children are "healthy and happy," and she
describes her eldest daughter as "scrawny."
"I'm glad to know that what I did at the time may have had something to
do with that," she says.
SOURCES: Hillier, T.A. Diabetes Care, September 2007; vol 30: pp
2287-2292. Teresa A. Hillier, MD, MS, endocrinologist; senior investigator,
Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Northwest and Hawaii. Larry C.
Deeb, MD, director, Diabetes Center, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital; professor
of pediatrics, University of Florida; spokesman, American Diabetes Association.
Vanessa Hayden, mother of four, Troutdale, Ore. American Diabetes
Association web site: "Gestational Diabetes."
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