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Caffeine During Pregnancy Nearly Doubles Childhood Obesity Risk

Children born to mothers who drank caffeine-laden drinks during pregnancy were 89% more likely to be obese…

In-utero exposures through adverse fetal programming are emerging as an important contributing factor to the epidemic of childhood obesity. Researchers at the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, California, examined the impact of in-utero exposure to caffeine on the risk of childhood obesity in offspring.

A prospective study of pregnant women with 15 years follow-up of their offspring was conducted to study the impact of in-utero exposure to caffeine on the risk of childhood obesity. Maternal caffeine intake was prospectively ascertained during pregnancy and outcome measures (body mass index (BMI)) were ascertained from medical charts, with 17 BMI measurements per child, on average, during the follow-up period. Potential confounders, including known perinatal risk factors for childhood obesity, were adjusted for using the generalized estimating equations model with repeated measurements.

After controlling for potential confounders, compared with those without caffeine exposure, in-utero exposure to caffeine overall is associated with 87% increased risk of childhood obesity: odds ratio (OR) =1.87, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.12–3.12. This association demonstrated a dose–response relationship: OR=1.77 (1.05–3.00) for maternal daily caffeine intake 150 mg per day during pregnancy, respectively. The researchers also observed a linear relationship: every one unit increase (log10 scale) in the amount of maternal caffeine intake was associated with 23% increased risk of obesity in offspring. The dose–response relationship appeared to be stronger for persistent obesity than for transitory obesity (occasional high BMI), and for girls than for boys.

The researchers concluded that, “We observed an association of in-utero exposure to caffeine with increased risk of childhood obesity. If this observation is further replicated in other studies, the finding will contribute to the understanding of fetal programming of childhood diseases and development of intervention strategy to prevent childhood obesity.”

Practice Pearls:

  • In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled and quadrupled in adolescents.
  • Children born to mothers who consumed more than 150 milligrams of caffeine daily, equivalent to a medium-sized cup of coffee, were 2.3 times at greater risk of becoming obese.
  • Caffeine also affects the development of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, the part of the brain involved in metabolism.

D-K Li. Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of obesity in offspring: a prospective cohort study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 Apr; 39(4): 658–664. Published online 2014 Dec 9. Prepublished online 2014 Nov 12. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2014.196