Several studies have suggested that maternal obesity can be a health hazard for both mother and child. And now, experts from the universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh warn that children born to overweight and obese mothers have a greater risk of early death.

“With the rising rates of excess weight among pregnant women, our findings of an association between maternal overweight and obesity and premature death in the adult offspring is a major public health concern,” write the authors who published their findings in BMJ.

Study details

The researchers analysed pregnancy data of over 28,000 women and their 37,709 babies. These women gave birth in Aberdeen between 1950 and 1976 – the information was collected by the databank.

21% of these mothers were overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9kg/m2) and 4% were obese (BMI above 29.9kg/m2).

Study findings

  • Individuals whose mothers were obese during pregnancy were 35% more likely to pass away before the age of 55 compared to those whose mothers had a normal gestational weight.
  • Children whose mothers were overweight and obese were 15% and 29% more likely to be admitted to hospital following heart attacks, angina and stroke.
  • There was a significant increase in deaths from any cause among individuals whose mothers were overweight or obese.

The hypothesis

The researchers explain that pregnant women who are overweight have a higher concentration of circulating inflammatory markers, fatty acids and amino acids as well as increased insulin resistance. This means that the developing foetus could be exposed to an excessive amount of nutrients which could, in turn, predispose the baby to insulin resistance and accumulation of body fat. These factors could amplify the risks for heart disease and other health complications like diabetes and certain cancers.

The authors also mention animal studies which revealed that over-nutrition in the womb could permanently impair appetite control, neuro-endocrine functions and energy metabolism in the offspring.

That’s not all, maternal over-nutrition has also been linked previously to structural changes in the hearts of offspring whereas high fat diets appear to cause alterations in the foetus’ DNA – these epigenetic changes have been associated with later childhood obesity.

Do you have a weight issue?

Yes? Don’t blame yourself – take action today by scheduling a meeting with a dietitian specialising in gynaecology.

If you’re already pregnant, the dietitian will work with you to create a meal plan that will prevent excess weight gain while ensuring that your growing baby gets all the nutrients she needs to develop properly.

If you’re planning to conceive, a dietitian can help you lose weight healthily. You don’t want to go on crash diets as these may put you at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies which could thwart conception or jeopardise the health of your future baby. Plus restrictive diets often cause even greater weight gain because of their nature.

Your dietitian can also advise you on the best types of exercise to facilitate weight loss.


    Reynolds et al (2013) Maternal obesity during pregnancy and premature mortality from cardiovascular event in adult offspring: follow-up of 1 323 275 person years. BMJ. 347:f4539.