High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy Linked to Increased Risk of Offspring Obesity

When expectant mothers have elevated blood pressure during pregnancy, it may raise their children’s risk of developing childhood obesity, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

“Our study is the first to demonstrate that among pregnant women, elevated blood pressure is associated with a greater risk of overweight and obesity for their children,” says the study’s first author, Ju-Sheng Zheng, PhD, of Qingdao University in Qingdao, China, and the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, U.K. “The risk still existed for children of women who didn’t have hypertension, but whose blood pressure during pregnancy was at the high end of the normal range.”

The authors point out that in 2010, the prevalence of overweight/obesity among Chinese children ages seven to 18 was 19.2%, and that childhood obesity is associated with many health problems in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “To curb the epidemic of the childhood obesity, it is crucial to identify its potential risk factors, as potential targets for prevention,” they write. “Thus far, a variety of risk factors for childhood obesity have been identified, including parental obesity, birth weight, rapid weight gain during infancy, breastfeeding, short sleeping duration of the children and genetic variations. However, little is known about the role of maternal pregnancy blood pressure (BP) in the development of offspring overweight and obesity in childhood.”

The prospective cohort study examined blood pressure levels and weight in 88,406 mother-child pairs who participated in the Jiaxing Birth Cohort in southeastern China between 1999 and 2013. The researchers analyzed the women’s blood pressure results from the three trimesters of pregnancy. During follow-up visits, the children were weighed when they were between the ages of 4 and 7 years.

Among women who were hypertensive during the second trimester, their children were 49% more likely to be categorized as overweight or to have obesity compared to children of mothers who had lower blood pressure levels. Children of women with high blood pressure during the third trimester were 14% more likely to meet the criteria for overweight or obesity. The mother’s body size prior to pregnancy did not affect the association. “The results indicate that all pregnant women and their doctors should monitor and try to limit a substantial increase in blood pressure in mid-to-late pregnancy,” Zheng says. “This may help reduce the likelihood of their children being affected by obesity.”