Moms who are overweight or obese in early pregnancy may increase the risk of heart attack in their children later in life, a study in Australia found.
Researchers at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne and the University of Sydney compared the thickness of the wall of the aorta, the largest artery in the body, in newborns with the body mass index of their mothers at 16 weeks' gestation. They found a BMI of 25 or more, considered overweight, led to an 8 percent increase in aortic thickness in the baby.
The findings, published in a letter to the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood -- Fetal and Neonatal Edition, suggest that increasing rates of maternal obesity could bring more heart attacks in coming decades. Sixteen percent of pregnant women in England had a BMI of at least 30 in 2007, compared with 7 percent in 1990, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2010 found.
"Potentially it means these kids are at an increased risk of having heart attacks in adulthood irrespective of what they do in their life -- whether or not they become obese," said co- author Michael Skilton, a vascular physiologist at Sydney University's Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders, in a telephone interview. "The good thing is that they have enough time to start exercising, eating well and doing all the things you can do" to improve heart health.
The research, which was based on a study of 23 pregnant women, found the higher the BMI in pregnancy, the thicker the aorta wall in the resultant newborn, Skilton said. Correlating the effect in adults suggests maternal overweight and obesity may be the equivalent of eight to 10 years of natural aging, he said.
Skilton's group plans to study the phenomenon in as many as 1,000 women as part of a research project in Melbourne, he said.