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How obesity and diabetes affects the unborn child

Obesity is a medical condition where a person has accumulated so much body fat that it poses a threat to the general health of a person. Medical News Today explained that if the person’s body weight is at least 20% higher than it should be, he/she is considered obese. People are generally considered obese when their body mass index (BMI), a measurement obtained by dividing a person’s weight by the square of the person’s height, is over 30 kg/m2, with the range between 25-30 kg/m2, it is defined as overweight. Moreover, obesity is most commonly caused by the combination of excessive food intake, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility. There are a few cases that it is caused by genes, endocrine disorders, medications, or mental disorder.

 

Meanwhile, diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level or the blood glucose, is too high. Blood glucose is defined by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases as the person’s main source of energy and it comes from the food that they intake, while insulin, on the other hand, is a hormone which is made by the pancreas that helps the glucose from food to get into the person’s cell which they could use for energy. Moreover, during pregnancy, some women have such high levels of blood glucose that their body is unable to produce enough insulin to absorb it all. This is known as gestational diabetes.

 

In a website called UpToDate, they explained that Maternal obesity could have a long-term effect on the offspring inside the mother’s womb. This is because of the increased levels of glucose, insulin, lipids, and inflammatory cytokines which can cause permanent or transient changes in the metabolic programming that will have an effect on the adult life of the fetus.

 

Defining maternal obesity

 

Maternal obesity is when a woman experiences obesity during her pregnancy. It has a significant impact on maternal metabolism and offspring development. Insulin resistance, glucose homeostasis, fat oxidation, and amino acid synthesis are all disrupted by maternal obesity and contribute to adverse outcomes. According to a journal called, ‘Maternal metabolism and obesity: modifiable determinants of pregnancy outcomes’ modification of lifestyle is an effective intervention strategy for improvement of maternal metabolism and the prevention of adverse outcomes.

 

20% of women will be obese by 2025 -- a sobering statistic, particularly considering that obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of life-long health problems in children, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The increasing rate of maternal obesity provides a major challenge to obstetric practice. Maternal obesity can result in negative outcomes for both women and fetuses. The maternal risks during pregnancy include gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Obesity in pregnancy can also affect health later in life for both mother and child. The risks in women include heart disease and hypertension which children could have a high risk of having obesity and heart disease.

 

What is gestational diabetes?

 

According to an article posted by Science Daily, mothers who have elevated blood glucose during pregnancy were significantly more likely to have developed type 2 diabetes a decade after pregnancy than their counterparts without blood glucose even if their blood sugar is not high enough to meet the traditional definition of gestational diabetes.

 

Gestational diabetes occurs at any stage of pregnancy but is more common in the second half. The mothers’ bodies cannot produce enough insulin to meet the extra needs in pregnancy. It could cause problems for both mother and child during and after birth, but the risk of having gestational diabetes could be reduced if it’s detected and prevented.

 

Effects of obesity and diabetes

Elinor Sullivan of the University of Oregon made a study that focuses on maternal obesity that has an effect on the neurotransmitter systems in the baby’s brain using a nonhuman primate model. In a website called, The Scientist, they explained that Sullivan generated evidence that high-fat diets which are given to pregnant macaques that disturb serotonin and dopamine signaling. “We see an association with changes in the brain and specific behavioral changes,” says Sullivan.

 

She also added that lower levels of maternal macrophage-derived chemokine levels regulated by both maternal diet and metabolic state which is related to behavioral outbursts. Meanwhile, perinatal obesity was found to be linked with reactive anxiety in the offspring in response to fear or stress and ritualized anxiety, which bears resemblance to symptoms of ASD

 

The baby might also have an excessive birth weight since they have extra glucose in the bloodstream that crosses to the placenta, which triggers the baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin. Mayo Clinic also added that the baby could grow too large which is called, macrosomia. Moreover, the mother’s high blood sugar could increase her risk of having an early labor and delivering her baby before the due date.

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