Obese Moms Need Targeted Care, European Consortium Says

Marlene Busko

February 20, 2015

A European consortium of researchers is calling for intensified strategies to lower the rate of obesity in young women to improve not only their own long-term health but also the long-term health of their potential children.

The Developmental Origins of Healthy and Unhealthy Ageing: The Role of Maternal Obesity (DORIAN) consortium, created in January 2012, issued this call for action in a press release on February 16. DORIAN includes 10 research teams working in Finland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Belgium.

"The DORIAN project has underlined the importance of preventing obesity in pregnancy, preventing excess weight gain during pregnancy, and also maintaining healthy diet without too much fat, all of which can have short- and long-term effects on the health of the mother and her child," consortium leader Dr Patricia Iozzo (Institute of Clinical Physiology, National Research Council, Pisa, Italy) said in a statement.

One group of DORIAN researchers, Dr Johan G Eriksson (University of Helsinki and Folkhälsan Research Center, Finland) and colleagues, previously published a study based on the Helsinki Birth Cohort showing that higher maternal body mass index (BMI) is linked with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes among the offspring (Ann Med. 2014;46:434–438).

This cohort of 13,345 men and women were followed from their birth in Helsinki in 1934–1944 until now, when they are in their 60s and 70s.

For every 1-kg/m2 increase in maternal BMI, the offspring had a 4% greater risk for type 2 diabetes, and compared with mothers whose BMI was less than 24 kg/m2, those whose mothers BMI was more than 28 kg/m2 had a 20% higher risk for type 2 diabetes, Dr Eriksson told Medscape Medical News in an email. The risks were similar, though slightly lower, for coronary heart disease and stroke.

"With higher rates of adiposity today [the findings] would probably be even more striking," he said. Thus, children whose mothers were overweight or obese "should be recognized as belonging to a high-risk group as a consequence of early programming of health during fetal life."

In another study, which is under review for publication, Dr Rebecca M Reynolds (University of Edinburgh, Scotland) and colleagues assessed the diets of 48 obese women and 98 lean women using a food frequency questionnaire. In an email to Medscape Medical News, she said that compared with the lean women, the obese women tended to eat a diet that was higher in saturated fats and lower in micronutrients such as vitamin B, vitamin D, iron, and folate.

Since many of these micronutrients are vitally important for fetal development and growth, this study highlights that "more specific information is needed to guide obese women about their diets during pregnancy," she said.

Prof Megan Holmes (University of Edinburgh) and colleagues are investigating enzymes and proteins in the placenta, and preliminary results suggest that the children whose mothers ate a high-fat diet are exposed to higher levels of cortisol in the womb and are more likely to suffer mood disorders in adulthood.

Thus, taken together, these and other studies from the consortium are showing that "attention should be devoted to the prevention of overweight and obesity among young girls, representing 'tomorrow's mothers,' " said Dr Iozzo.

The DORIAN project is funded by the European Commission's Framework Programme 7.

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