UPBEAT-TEMPO: the effect of diet and lifestyle changes during pregnancy on the weight of children at 3 years old

Prof Lucilla Poston, Dr Dharmintra Pasupathy, Mr Paul Seed, Dr Annette Briley, Dr Sara White, Dr Angela Flynn, Ms Kathryn Dalrymple, Ms Claire Singh, Mr Glen Nishku, CRN Midwives and research associates, and the UPBEAT consortium

Researchers are looking at the children of women who took part in the original UPBEAT trial to see if diet and lifestyle changes during pregnancy have an effect on their weight as they grow up.

Why do we need this research?

The nutrition a baby receives while in its mother’s womb may affect its health and weight after birth. We need to know more about how obesity during pregnancy can affect a child’s long-term health, and if it possible to counteract these effects.

The UPBEAT study

The UPBEAT study involved over 1,500 obese pregnant women, making it the largest ever clinical study in this group of people. In this study, mothers were advised how to switch to a low glycaemic index (GI) diet – where sugar is released more slowly into the blood – and get more physical activity during pregnancy. Our researchers found that babies born to mothers who made these lifestyle changes had less body fat at six months old than the babies of mothers who made no positive changes to their lifestyle.

What’s happening with this project?

Now, as part of a large, multinational EU study called EarlyNutrition, our researchers are meeting again with the families who took part in the UPBEAT study. They want to see if the lifestyle changes the mothers made during pregnancy have affected the weight of their children at three years’ old. This follow-up study is called UPBEAT-TEMPO, and more than 500 women and their children have taken part.

Our researchers are particularly interested in whether maternal diet and weight gain in the womb are linked to childhood obesity. However, so far, the researchers have found that the lifestyle changes made during UPBEAT don’t appear to have had any effect on childhood obesity, but they have had a positive effect on the resting heart rate for the children. This suggests that, for mothers with obesity, improving diet and physical activity during pregnancy could lead to better heart health in their children.

Finally, our researchers also want to see if it is possible for children to be genetically ‘programmed’ to be obese while in the womb. They think that the way which obesity during pregnancy can affect the health of children in later life might be down to chemical changes to the baby’s DNA. To do this, the team are looking at the DNA present in umbilical cord blood at birth, as well as DNA samples taken from the children at three years’ old.

What difference will this project make?

This project is part of ongoing work to understand whether lifestyle changes a mother makes during pregnancy can have a benefit for their child’s health in the long-term. The results from this study and others like it could lead to new recommendations for obese pregnant women, helping to ensure they and their children can lead healthy lives.

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