Babies born to obese and overweight mothers face greater diabetes risk

New study shows that obesity in expecting mothers has increased five-fold in the past 60 years.

Children of obese mothers are three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a new study reveals. Being overweight but not obese during pregnancy also increases the risk of diabetes by almost half.

Researchers from the Centre of Cardiovascular Science in Edinburgh studied the birth records of over 118,000 children born between 1950 and 2011, as recorded by the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank. They looked at the link between maternal body mass index (BMI) and clinically diagnosed cases of diabetes. Of the mothers studied, about 25% were overweight and about 10% were obese. The proportion of obese mothers increased five-fold from about one in 30 during the 1950s to almost one in six between 2000 and 2011.

We found an increased risk of developing diabetes in children born to obese mothers, which was not linked to socio-demographic factors. Our findings underline the urgent need to find ways of helping women plan for pregnancy by optimising their health - including reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

Professor Rebecca Reynolds
Lead Researcher

As cited in the study, risks for children of obese mothers also include cardiovascular disease and death.

These findings highlight a potential target for intervention to help women improve and maintain their health before and during pregnancy. The high blood sugar and insulin levels in the womb of obese mothers is theorised to trigger or “programme” children to develop diabetes later in life.

The study was published in Diabetologia.


Related Links

Lahti-Pulkkinen, M., Bhattacharya, S., Wild, S.H. et al. Consequences of being overweight or obese during pregnancy on diabetes in the offspring: a record linkage study in Aberdeen, Scotland. Diabetologia (2019) 62: 1412. 

News Coverage

BBC  - 'Babies born to obese mothers 'more likely to develop type 2 diabetes'

The Scotsman - 'Children of obese pregnant women face greater diabetes risk'

Independent - 'Babies born to obese mothers more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, study suggests'