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Babies of Overweight, Obese Mothers Show Symptoms of Heart Disease at Birth

Update Date: Feb 28, 2013 12:00 PM EST

Obesity is an expanding problem in the world, linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and some cancers. According to the World Health Organization, 1.4 billion adults are overweight and nearly 300 million women are obese. In addition, half of women of childbearing age in developed countries are overweight and obese. However, the health risks of obesity extend beyond heart problems and diabetes. Being overweight can raise the risk of pregnancy complications to both mother and child as well. According to a recent study, babies born from overweight or obese mothers show the beginnings of heart disease while they are still newborns.

Researchers from the Royal Women's Hospital, the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney, all in Australia, accepted 23 volunteers for the experiment. All were 16 weeks pregnant and were defined to be obese if their body mass index surpassed 25 kg/m2. The average participant in the study was 35 years of age, and the women had BMIs that ranged from 17 kg/m2 to 42 kg/m2.

Then the researchers examined the women's babies, who were born weighing anywhere between four pounds to about nine and a half pounds. Before the newborns were seven days old, the researchers scanned their abdominal aorta, the portion of the artery that extends down to the abdomen. Researchers examined, in particular, how thick two of the innermost walls, the media and the intima, were.

Regardless of the baby's weight at birth, babies whose mothers were overweight tended to have thicker arteries. This was an early indication of heart disease in the infants. The finding reveals why babies of mothers who are overweight and obese tend to be particularly prone to heart disease and strokes when they become older.

Symptoms of heart disease typically appear when people are middle-aged or older, though recent research suggests that the warning signs may appear as early as childhood.

Women who are overweight and pregnant have an added risk of blood clots, and ther babies have an added risk of spina bifida, or incomplete development of the spine, The New York Times reports.

The study was published in the Fetal and Neonatal Edition of the Archives of Disease of Child.

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