A recent study shows that pregnant women with obesity could dramatically improve their infants’ health outlook through an improved lifestyle, particularly a healthier diet and more physical activity.

According to a research published in PLosMed, there is a significant connection between the high glucose in a mother with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and the changes to an infant’s DNA.

As GDM has become more prevalent among pregnant mothers worldwide, as well as the rise in obesity and risks of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, there has also been an increase of children’s risks of getting metabolic diseases. It is also suggested that high levels of glucose present in a mother with GDM could trigger epigenetic changes in the developing fetus, which can result in negative health outcomes for the child.

A team of researchers from the University of Southampton and King’s College London conducted a study on over 550 pregnant women with obesity and their children. Compared to the women in a control group who made no lifestyle changes during pregnancy, the women who improved their diet by eating foods lower in sugar and increased their physical activity put on less weight and were metabolically healthier.

The researchers compared the level and pattern of DNA methylation, which is a major epigenetic mechanism that controls gene activity, between newborn babies from mothers who had GDM and those who did not. Results of their study show that the occurrence of GDM and high glucose levels in mothers are strongly linked to changes in the level and pattern of functional modification in the offspring’s DNA.

More importantly, the researchers also found out that a lifestyle change, including dietary improvement and physical activity, can significantly reduce these methylation changes. In other words, a healthy pregnancy diet and lifestyle can have a great impact on the baby’s development.

According to Professor Lucilla Poston, Tommy’s Chair of Maternal & Fetal Health, it has always been known that children of mothers who had gestational diabetes are put at a greater risk of obesity and poor glucose control. However, this new study shows that epigenetic pathways could also be involved.

Tommy’s chief executive Jane Brewin says that one of the best things a woman can do is to improve their health and weight before embarking on a pregnancy. The new study shows that overweight moms and their babies can still benefit from a lifestyle change during pregnancy. She adds that pregnant women should be given non-judgemental and practical support and should be encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle.


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