No smoking, drinking… or chocolate? Manchester researchers to see if sugar in pregnancy affects child’s obesity

By Sean Butters

For some women, pregnancy cravings can lead them to overindulge in their favourite sweet treats.

Yet Manchester researchers could soon see chocolate and sweets confined to the same off-limits bracket as cigarettes and alcohol.

The University of Manchester and the Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust are to take part in the Hyperglycemia and Pregnancy Outcomes (HAPO) follow-up study, investigating whether the blood sugar levels of pregnant women can influence their children’s chances of long-term obesity.

“If we can determine risk factors for obesity early in life, then we have the opportunity to do something about it,” said Professor Peter Clayton, Paediatric Endocrinologist at the Manchester Children’s Hospital and Professor of Child Health and Paediatric Endocrinology at The University of Manchester.

“This could help to prevent some of the later life consequences of obesity, such as heart disease and diabetes.”

The project will trace 800 of the 2,400 mothers and children from Manchester – out of 46,632 worldwide – who took part in the original 2001 HAPO study, which showed that excess blood sugar heightens the possibility of mothers needing a caesarean section.

The mothers and children will be asked to visit the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Centre in Manchester, where they will have measures taken of their height, weight, blood pressure, body fat, blood sugar, insulin and blood fats

Avni Vyas, from The University of Manchester’s Institute of Human Development, said that a major issue is that people are choosing to remain in blissful ignorance rather than take responsibility for their health.

“We know that heavy babies are more likely to become overweight as children,” she said.

“The medical world has known for over a decade that obesity is rising at an alarming rate.

“The problem stems from people not believing in the increased risk of ill health and early death from obesity and secondly not knowing or not wanting to know if they are at risk.

“We know that mothers with poor health and early signs of diabetes in pregnancy are at increased risk of having adverse outcomes at delivery. These children then go on to become unhealthy in later life and the cycle is perpetuated.”

The Manchester researchers will join up with Professor Boyd Metzger and experts funded by the National Institute of Health in the United States.

They will be working in conjunction with teams in the United States, Canada, Barbados, Hong Kong, Israel and Northern Ireland.

As well as investigating the effects on the children’s likelihood of becoming obese, they will also seek to uncover any links between women’s blood sugar before giving birth and the risk of developing diabetes later on.

Dr Michael Maresh, Obstetrician at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, praised the way that the 2001 study has raised general awareness of the need for pregnant women to minimise their blood glucose.

“The original study has helped us to better understand the relationship between blood sugar levels in pregnancy and whether they are related to increased risk for the mother having complications during delivery or her baby having problems,” he said.

“As a result of this important study, medical and public health opinion regarding healthy blood sugar levels in pregnancy is changing. It is now becoming common practice to aim to have lower blood sugar levels during pregnancy than was originally accepted.”

Image courtesy of Trevor Bair via Flicker, with thanks.

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