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Overweight During Pregnancy Can Potentiate Diabetes In Offspring

Aug 27, 2019
Editor: David L. Joffe, BSPharm, CDE, FACA

Author: Joel John, Pharm.D. Candidate, Florida A&M University, College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Effects of obesity / overweight during pregnancy: some newborns could be fighting a tough, uphill battle as soon as they are born because of their mothers’ weight.  

It comes to no surprise that newborns can be born with malformations due to the lifestyle habits of their mothers. Some of these habits that come to mind are drinking and smoking, but even the mother having a high body mass index can cause a different kind of harm. It was known by researchers that obesity in expecting mothers can cause cardiovascular disease and death in the offspring, but it was not known if it could increase the risk of diabetes in the offspring.


This study was a cohort analysis that used data from large pregnancy databases such as the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank and the Scottish Care Information-Diabetes database, which shows diagnosed type 1 and type 2 diabetes information in Scotland. 118,201 birth records were retrieved from the databases from the years 1950-2011. The BMI of the mothers were calculated based on their measured height and weight from their first antenatal visit. The outcome in this cohort analysis was any diagnosis of diabetes in the offspring, whether it be type 1 or 2. Other information regarding that mother was noted as well. This included, but was not limited to, maternal age, history or hypertension, socioeconomic status, gestation from first meeting to delivery, weight of offspring, and other relevant information. Women who were diagnosed with diabetes prior to pregnancy were excluded from the study as well as women who were diagnosed with diabetes during or after pregnancy.

Of the 118,201 mothers that were included in this study, 34.3% of the mothers had either overweight or obesity. It was observed that the rate of mothers with obesity from 2000-2011 was more than five times the amount from 1950-1959. Another trend that was seen in this study was that women with overweight or obesity who had a child that was diagnosed with diabetes usually had that child diagnosed at a younger age than children with diabetes whose mothers were underweight or normal weight during pregnancy. The BMI of these offspring of pregnant mothers with overweight or obesity were also higher than the offspring with diabetes of the underweight or normal weight mothers. It was also noted that there were more male offspring that were diagnosed with diabetes, compared to female offspring.

This relationship between mothers with overweight or obesity and the increased rate of offspring with diabetes can better explain how cardiovascular disease and death is more prominent in these offspring. More questions should be asked about this study, such as how much the child’s upbringing had to do with their later diabetes diagnosis. How are people to know that the reason for the offspring’s diagnosis of diabetes was due to the BMI of the mother and not the lifestyle habits that were instilled into the child at a young age? 

There is no question, however, that there needs to be urgent intervention taking place to prevent the already increased rate of pregnant mothers with overweight or obesity. The only way to fix this problem is to thoroughly educate women of childbearing age about how important a role their lifestyle decisions play in the health of their offspring. It becomes more difficult with an increase in processed foods and busier schedules in working adults, but necessary changes need to happen to prevent further harm in the future generations to come.

Practice Pearls:

  • Pregnant women with overweight or obesity can increase risk of cardiovascular disease and even death in their offspring
  • New studies have shown that this could be a result of an increased rate of diabetes in offspring that had mothers with overweight or obesity during pregnancy.
  • Education and lifestyle modification strategies should be made known to women of childbearing age so they can fully understand the risks that come with their lifestyle decisions and how they can change for the sake of their child’s health.


Lahti-Pulkkinen, M., Bhattacharya, S., Wild, S.H. et al. Diabetologia (2019) 62: 1412. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-019-4891-4


Joel John, Pharm.D. Candidate, Florida A&M University, College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences