A new study suggesting maternal obesity is associated with an increased risk of premature death in adult offspring highlights the importance of women starting their pregnancy at a normal weight, the Royal College of Midwives has said.
The study, by researchers based at two universities in Scotland, was published online in the British Medical Journal.
It found that children born to obese mothers are 35% more likely to die before they reach 55.
And they also have a 29% increased chance of being admitted to hospital for heart attack, angina and stroke than those born to mothers of a normal weight, it suggested.
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said the research showed “the importance of women starting their pregnancy at a normal weight. However, not all pregnancies are planned and midwives encourage mothers to manage their weight during pregnancy”.
For those who are overweight or obese there is a need to avoid excess weight gain and for those of normal weight to maintain this status, she added.
She also said that after the birth, midwives work hard to support women to lose their weight - over a reasonable time period - so that they are an ideal weight for the next pregnancy.
She added: “Midwives do communicate to women the long-term health risks of obesity for mother and baby.”
The experts, from the universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, said their results were a ” major public health concern” - especially as only 4% of mothers in the study were obese, which was “far smaller than current levels” in both the UK and US.
They analysed data for 37,709 babies delivered between 1950 and 1976 in Scotland who were now aged 34 to 61.
The mother’s weight was recorded during her first antenatal appointment in pregnancy.
The results showed that offspring were 35% more likely to have suffered an early death from any cause by the age of 55 if their mother had been obese during pregnancy - defined as a body mass index of 30 or over.
This was found to be true even after other factors were taken into account, including the mother’s age and socioeconomic status, the sex of the child, its birth weight and current weight.
Some 21% (5,993) of the 28,540 mothers were overweight at their first antenatal appointment and 4% (1,141) were obese.
Among the 37,709 children, there were 6,551 deaths from any cause.
The leading cause of death was heart disease (24% of deaths in men and 13% in women).
This was followed by cancer (26% of deaths in men and 42% in women).
The experts concluded: “Maternal obesity is associated with an increased risk of premature death in adult offspring.”
Strategies to optimise weight before pregnancy are urgently required as one in five women in the UK is obese at antenatal booking, they added.
Are you able to Speak out Safely?
Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS