WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
May 3, 2010 -- More babies are being born with more body fat at the same
time that body mass index (BMI) -- a measurement calculated from height and
weight measurements -- has increased among pregnant women, according to
research presented at a national pediatrics conference.
There are few studies on newborn body fat composition and how this
measurement influences the risk of childhood obesity, a condition that is
prevalent in the U.S. Researchers question whether the path to obesity may
begin as early as in the womb.
A research team from Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City,
Mo., analyzed data from 1990 to 2005 and looked at more than 74,000
births. They found that the ponderal index, a measurement of newborn body fat
composition, correlated with the mother's BMI and also increased over the study
period. Babies with a higher ponderal index tend to have more body fat.
The findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual
meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Study researcher Felix Okah, MD, MS, professor of pediatrics and director of
the Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship Program at Children's Mercy
Hospitals and Clinics, and colleagues looked at the mothers' prenatal care,
their BMI, and overall weight gain.
They found that while mothers from all racial and ethnic groups gained
weight over the 15-year study period, there were some racial and ethnic
differences between the groups:
Excess weight and obesity are risk factors for several chronic diseases,
including diabetes and heart disease. Extra pounds can also increase the risk
for pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes.
A woman's pre-pregnancy BMI influences fetal growth and newborn body weight.
Not surprisingly, mothers with higher BMIs are more likely to give birth to
For adults, a BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight; a BMI of 30 or
higher is considered obese, according to national guidelines. Currently in the
U.S., nearly two-thirds of all adults age 20 and older are either overweight or
obese. Among children who are overweight in the U.S.:
Doctors and public health authorities say that curbing childhood obesity is
key to reducing the risk of health problems later in life.
"Health care providers need to pay closer attention to the body mass index
of women before they get pregnant, and equal attention to how much weight they
gain during the pregnancy," said Okah. "Adult diseases like obesity may have
their foundation during the fetal period, so efforts to safeguard the health of
the fetus could translate to future adult health for these newborns."
SOURCES:News release, Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics.Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting, Vancouver, May 1-4, 2010.Chu, S. Diabetes Care, April 6, 2007.CDC web site: "About BMI for Adults," "Obesity and Overweight."
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