Obese, pregnant women can reduce infants' health risks through improved diet, physical activity

According to a new study, obese, pregnant women could decrease the health risks of their infants via better diet and increased physical activity.

Obese, pregnant women can reduce infants
Image Credit: University of Southampton.

Published recently in the PLosMed journal, the study examined the effect of high glucose in mothers who have gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and changes caused to the DNA of infants.

Globally, GDM is turning out to be more common along with a rise in obesity. It may not only raise the risk of difficulties at the time of pregnancy and childbirth but may also increase the risk of metabolic disease in the child in subsequent life.

High glucose levels in mothers with GDM have been indicated to set off epigenetic modifications in the developing fetus (chemical changes to the genetic blueprint of the fetus that control gene activity), leading to adverse health results for the child.

Scientists from the University of Southampton and King’s College London examined data from more than 550 obese, pregnant women and their children, from the UK Pregnancies Better Eating and Activity Trial (UPBEAT). The aim of the trial is to enhance the diet and physical activity of pregnant women with obesity across the United Kingdom.

When compared to women in a control group, who did not make any changes to their lifestyle at the time of pregnancy, women who were assisted in changing their diet to lower glycemic index foods that are decomposed less rapidly by the body, a decreased fat intake and boosting their physical activity were metabolically healthier and put on less weight.

In the latest study, scientists compared the pattern and level of DNA methylation—a crucial epigenetic mechanism that regulates the activity of genes, in the newborn infants from mothers who developed GDM with those that did not develop the disorder.

Subsequently, they looked at whether a physical activity and dietary intervention at the time of pregnancy altered such modifications in infants who were born to mothers who had GDM.

The outcomes demonstrated that high glucose levels and GDM in mothers were associated with changes in the pattern and level of functional modification to the DNA of infants. In addition, the team discovered that the exercise and dietary intervention considerably decreased these methylation modifications in the infant linked to GDM in the mothers.

These findings suggest that improvements to diet and physical activity can have an impact on the development of their children. These are very encouraging finding and further studies are now needed to establish whether reducing these epigenetic changes through a healthier lifestyle during pregnancy are accompanied by improved health outcomes for the children in later life.”

Karen Lillycrop, Professor of Epigenetics, University of Southampton

According to Lucilla Poston, Tommy’s Chair of Maternal & Fetal Health and lead investigator of the UPBEAT trial at King’s College London, “we have known for some time that children of mothers who had gestational diabetes are a greater risk of obesity and poor control of glucose; this new research implies that epigenetic pathways could be involved.”

Obesity during pregnancy can have lifelong negative impacts on mother and baby - so one of the best things mums can do is to improve their health, including their weight, before embarking on a pregnancy.”

Jane Brewin, Tommy’s Chief Executive, University of Southampton

However, this study shows that mums who are overweight and their babies can still benefit from adopting a healthy diet while pregnant. All mums-to-be need access to healthy eating advice, and those who are overweight should be given non-judgemental practical support and encouragement to eat healthily during pregnancy,” Brewin concluded.

Source:
Journal reference:

Antoun, E., et al. (2020) Maternal dysglycaemia, changes in the infant’s epigenome modified with a diet and physical activity intervention in pregnancy: Secondary analysis of a randomised control trial. PLOS Medicine. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003229.

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