Why do we need this research?
If a woman is obese, she is more likely to experience 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 find out what can be done to minimise the risks for both mother and child.
What happened in this project?
Researchers funded by Tommy’s previously carried out a study called UPBEAT, which included over 1,500 obese pregnant women. Some of these women were given support and advice to encourage them to change their diet and lifestyle, while other women only received standard antenatal care.
To find out whether obesity during pregnancy can affect the health of children’s hearts, our researchers then carried out another study – called UPBEAT-TEMPO-HEART – in which they looked at the hearts of some of the UPBEAT children once they were around three years old. The team also looked at the hearts of children born to mothers who were a healthy weight during pregnancy. They measured blood pressure, heart rate and blood vessel stiffness in the three-year-olds. They also used magnetic resonance imaging – or MRI – to look at heart health in newborn babies.
As the researchers suspected, obesity during pregnancy was related to changes in the hearts of newborns and three-year-olds that meant they were less able to control blood pressure and heart rate. This could cause heart problems later in life, and our researchers plan on following up with the children when they are around 9 or 10 years old to find out whether these problems persist as the children grow up.
On the plus side, the team did find that the three-year-old children of the obese women had healthier hearts if their mothers made diet and lifestyle changes during pregnancy. This is an exciting finding, as it suggests that the effects of obesity during pregnancy can be counteracted by changes to diet and exercise.
What difference will this project make?
This project has shown that obesity during pregnancy may affect the health of children’s hearts as they grow up. In the long run, making lifestyle changes during pregnancy could help protect against heart disease as adults. If we can show this to be true, this would provide obese pregnant women with greater incentive to adopt healthier lifestyles, so that they can protect their babies’ hearts in the future.