UPBEAT: finding out if we can help obese women give birth to babies with less body fat

Professor Lucilla Poston, Dr Annette Briley, Dr Dharmintra Pasupathy, Dr Nashita Patel, Mr Paul Seed, Angela Flynn, Claire Singh MSc, the UPBEAT consortium

Researchers have found that fasting glucose levels may play an important role in whether babies born to obese women have too much body fat.

Obese mothers have a higher chance of giving birth to babies with more body fat. However, we don’t know exactly why. Researchers supported by Tommy’s looked at 502 UPBEAT mothers to look at the relationship between clinical factors, chemical signals in the body, and body fat in the baby.

Researchers also measured how well women responded to sugar, using a 'glucose tolerance test' around 26-28 weeks of pregnancy. This test measures how well the body can move sugar from the blood into the cells after eating. Women are not allowed to eat anything for several hours before the test. A doctor will take a blood test to measure the level of glucose in the blood – this is your fasting glucose level. Women then drink a syrupy fluid containing a set amount of glucose. A couple of hours later, they give another blood sample and glucose levels are measured again to see how the body has reacted to the sugar.

Researchers found that none of the factors they looked at in early pregnancy made a difference to body fat in the baby after birth. However, results suggest that the fasting glucose level between 26-28 weeks of pregnancy is very important in deciding if a baby will have too much body fat after birth. It may do this by affecting the way other chemical signals in the body work.

We will now try and prove that fasting glucose makes a direct difference to the chances of babies being born with more body fat. If this is true, then we might be able to help obese mothers by making sure their bodies are responding normally to glucose during pregnancy. This could help them to give birth to babies with a healthier body makeup.  

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This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's, the National Institute for Health Research, Chief Scientist Office Scotland, Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, the Medical Research Council, Guy's and St Thomas' Biomedical Research Centre and EU EarlyNutrition

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