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Is There a Link between Mothers’ Pre-Pregnancy BMI and Children’s Metabolic Profile?

A group of researchers from the United Kingdom determine if there is a relationship between maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and offspring metabolic profiles.

A lot of women are overweight or obese even before they start the wonderful journey of pregnancy. However, it is still unclear how pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) contributes to long-term risks in the offspring’s metabolic profiles.

In a recent article published in PLOS Medicine this 2017, a group of researchers from the United Kingdom did a meta-analysis to determine if pre-pregnancy BMI has an effect on the metabolic profile of the offspring via intrauterine mechanisms, or shared familial characteristics. Intrauterine mechanisms would describe any biological process occurring during fetal development. In this case, it is by “overfeeding” the developing baby. Shared familial characteristics describe genetic, lifestyle, or socioeconomic characteristics For the study, researchers included three independent European birth cohort studies to determine the relationship between pre-pregnancy BMI and offspring metabolic profiles.

The results of the studies were compared to paternal BMI and offspring metabolic traits. Paternal BMI was used as a control for the study as the researchers believe that it shares the same confounding effects by the variable being studied without directly influencing the offspring metabolic traits via the intrauterine route. In each study, a comprehensive profiling of 153 circulating lipids, lipoproteins, and metabolites taken from the offspring was analysed as an outcome.

The results of the study show that both maternal and paternal pre-pregnancy BMI was positively correlated with offspring metabolic traits. For example, increases in maternal and paternal BMI were associated with an increase in the very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) levels in the offspring. As maternal/paternal BMI increased, offspring high-density lipoproteins (HDL) decreased. There was very little evidence of a stronger association between maternal BMI and offspring outcomes.

Overall, associations across offspring metabolic traits were observed to be similar for maternal and paternal BMI. This means that both familial genetics and lifestyle practices, rather than intrauterine mechanisms, contribute to the observed pre-pregnancy BMI and offspring metabolic traits. This study has important clinical applications, as it points to interventions targeting the pre-pregnancy BMI of both parents as the most beneficial for fetal metabolic health.

Written by Karla Sevilla


  1. Ferreira, D.L.S., et al. (2017). Association of pre-pregnancy body mass index with offspring metabolic profile: Analyses of 3 European prospective birth cohorts. PLOS Medicine.


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