Heart disease detected in newborns of obese mothers

By Efrosini Costa

Startling new research has uncovered that expectant mothers who are overweight could increase their child’s chances of developing heart disease.

When it comes to pregnancy, this study has shed an alarming new light on the idea of ‘eating for two’ when expecting.

The new research, lead by Australian scientists at The University of Sydney, found the major arteries, or aortas, of newborns who were born to obese mothers had a thickened lining – a sign of early heart disease – than those born to mothers in a healthy weight range.

A group of 23 expectant mothers averaging 35 years of age and of a variety of weight ranges were monitored from 16 weeks into their pregnancy. Within a week of giving birth, the newborns in this group underwent scans of their abdominal aorta – the main artery that reaches right down to the belly.

The findings of the study, published this week in the Foetal and Neonatal Edition of Archives of Disease of Childhood, revealed the newborns of mothers who had a body mass index (BMI) of 25 and above had considerably thicker arteries than their counterparts, with notable thickening in the two innermost walls – the intima and media.

The higher the mum’s weight, the greater the thickness of the artery walls were, irrespective of the baby’s own weight gain at birth. It’s an astonishing finding, when you consider that the prevalence of obesity in women of childbearing age is more than 50 per cent in developed nations, the study explained.

“These results could suggest a direct link between a mother’s weight during pregnancy and her child’s risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

“We do know that obesity during pregnancy can cause a number of problems for both the mother and their unborn baby” Thompson explained, adding that: “this was a very small study of just 23 women and we would need to see research on a much larger scale to make any firm conclusions.”

The study’s lead author, Michael Skilton from the University of Sydney explained why the testing was an accurate indication of the heart health risks for children.

“The earliest physical signs of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) are present in the abdominal aorta, and aortic intima-media thickness is considered the best non-invasive measure of structural health of the vasculature in children.”

The researchers hope that their study will shed some light on the dangers associated with being an overweight mother, specifically, their baby’s susceptibility to heart disease and stroke later in life.

“If you’re thinking of starting a family and have concerns about your weight, try to eat healthily and keep active. Looking after yourself when you’re pregnant will mean that you are in the best position to look after your baby when the time comes,” the authors advised.


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