UPBEAT-TEMPO-HEART: how improving health during pregnancy could lead to healthier hearts in children

Dr Annette Briley, Dr Dharmintra Pasupathy, Prof Lucilla Poston, Mr Paul Seed, Dr Paul Taylor, Ms. Claire Singh, Dr Matias Costa Vieira, Ms Lisa Hurley.

Researchers supported by Tommy’s are looking at whether changing diet and lifestyle during pregnancies could help babies have healthier hearts into childhood.

Why do we need this research?

Being obese can lead to complications during pregnancy and birth. Researchers also suspect that obesity during pregnancy can have a lasting impact on the baby’s health into childhood. We need to better understand how obesity affects children in the short- and long-term, and what can be done to minimise the risks for both mother and child.

What happened in this project?

In a study called UPBEAT, obese women tried changing their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy to improve their health and lower their weight. Our researchers want to see if being obese during pregnancy affects the hearts of these children, now they are around three years’ old. They will also find out if the lifestyle changes made during UPBEAT have helped the children have healthier hearts.

To do this, our researchers used non-invasive tests to measure blood pressure, heart rate, and how stiff the blood vessels are in the three-year-olds. They also used a new way of imaging the heart using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to look at how well the heart is working in newborn babies. The heart health of these children was compared to children born to mothers of a healthy weight.

The team are still analysing all the data from the UPBEAT-TEMPO-HEART study. However, their early findings confirm what they suspected: that obesity during pregnancy leads to changes to the hearts of newborns and three-year-olds, which mean they are less able to control blood pressure and heart rate. This may cause heart problems later in life, but the researchers need to continue to follow-up with the children in the future to be certain.

On the plus side, early findings from a related study, UPBEAT-TEMPO, show that the lifestyle changes made by women during UPBEAT can have a positive effect on their heart health. This is an exciting finding, as is suggests that the effects of obesity during pregnancy can be counteracted with changes to diet and exercise.

What difference will this project make?

This project has revealed how obesity during pregnancy may affect the heart health of babies into childhood. In the long run, making lifestyle changes during pregnancy could help protect against heart disease as adults. This could enable us to help obese pregnant women adopt healthier lifestyles, and protect their babies’ hearts in the future.

This study is part of the multinational EU EarlyNutrition project.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.

Funding

This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's, the British Heart Foundation, EU EarlyNutrition, the National Institute for Health Research's Clinical Research Network, and the CAPES program (Brazil)

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