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Weight Gain During Pregnancy Linked to Childhood Obesity

Update Date: Oct 02, 2013 09:32 AM EDT

Mothers who gain a lot of weight during pregnancy may be increasing their children's risk of becoming obese, according to new research.

A new study that involved 41,133 mothers and their children in Arkansas showed that high pregnancy weight gain increases the risk of obesity in those children through age 12.

Researchers said that latest findings suggest that pregnancy may be an especially important time to prevent obesity in the next generation.

"From the public health perspective, excessive weight gain during pregnancy may have a potentially significant influence on propagation of the obesity epidemic," senior study author David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital, said in a news release.

They say that programs to limit pregnancy weight gain could help prevent some cases of childhood obesity.

"Pregnancy presents an attractive target for obesity prevention programs, because women tend to be particularly motivated to change behavior during this time," said Ludwig.

Researchers used a new study design to examine causes of childhood obesity. They linked the birth records of mothers with two or more children to school records that included the child's body mass index (BMI) at an average age of 11.9 years, and then made statistical comparisons between siblings.

Researchers explained that comparing sibling minimizes confounding factors because siblings have the same relative distribution of obesity genes as well as the same home environment, socioeconomic and demographic influences.

The findings revealed that excessive weight gain in pregnancy increased the birth weight of the infant. Researchers said this effect of maternal weight gain continues through childhood and accounts for half a BMI unit, or about 2 to 3 lbs., between children of women with the least to the most pregnancy weight gain.

"Excessive pregnancy weight gain may make a significant contribution to the obesity epidemic," explained Ludwig. "Children born to women who gained excessive amounts of weight--40 lbs. or more-during pregnancy had an 8 percent increased risk of obesity."

The findings are published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

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