From Womb to Tomb, Hope Your Mom Wasn't Obese

Even if you're as skinny as a pencil, having a mother who was obese may make you die sooner.

That's according to a story by Kim Painter at USA Today, who writes that "Middle-aged adults whose mothers were obese or overweight in pregnancy have increased risks for developing serious cardiovascular problems and dying young, a new study shows."

Genes and upbringing may play a part, Painter reports. "But the results also add to growing evidence that adverse conditions in the womb might have profound effects on offspring long after birth, says the study, published Tuesday in the British medical journal BMJ."

This, actually, has been around since 1999, when a blog about schizophrenia ran a story on how conditions in the womb affect health well into adulthood.  Calling it "fetal programming," the site went on to say that "programming has permanent effects that alter responses in later life and can modify susceptibility to disease. . .involves structural change to important organs. . .has different effects in males and females."

Children born to obese women -- after accounting for socioeconomic status, mothers' age, and other factors --  were 35% more likely to die, for any reason, and 29% more likely to be hospitalized for heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular problems when compared to adults who had normal-weight mothers, Painter notes. "Cardiovascular diseases and cancer were the most common causes of death," he writes.

Not long ago I was fascinated by a new topic, fetal origins, which revolves around life in the uterus for a fetus.  We all know that stress can be bad for an unborn baby,but we're finding there are now many other conditions inside a woman's body that can affect her fetus.

"As researchers are now discovering, it’s conditions in the womb that make a lot of things. . .go right in later life," writes Annie Murphy Paul, who has reported extensively on this, much of it based on her own pregnancies., including a book last year, "Origins."

"The pre-natal period, it turns out, is where many of the springs of health, strength and well-being are found, leading scientists to a new and much more positive perspective on pregnancy."

"It's very difficult to tease out," causes and effects when it comes to intergenerational health problems, lead researcher of the study Rebecca Reynolds, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Edinburgh, told Painter.  There may be something to the idea that "over-nourished" fetuses may develop differences in their brains, blood vessels, hearts or metabolisms that make it more likely for them to become obese, unhealthy or both."

Even if your mom was just overweight, there were modest increases in illness and death among the grown children of these women, as well.

Some experts deride the study, saying not enough is known about birth to mid-life of these adults, and that could certainly account for some of this, too.  Women who start a pregnancy obese have an increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, having a Cesarean section and having a baby with birth defects, Reynolds told Painter.

"You see an immediate effect on the fetus, so it's not too much of a leap to say we may see long-term impacts," says Conry, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento.
The issue is pressing, she says, because obesity among pregnant women has risen 70% in just the past decade in the United States.
 
"You see an immediate effect on the fetus, so it's not too much of a leap to say we may see long-term impacts," Painter quotes Jeanne Conry, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.and an obstetrician/gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento.

The issue is pressing, she told Painter, "because obesity among pregnant women has risen 70% in just the past decade in the United States."

Reynolds added that 35% of reproductive-age women in the United States today are obese and that rates are similar in Europe.

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