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Mom’s gestational diabetes hikes kids’ pre-diabetes, obesity risk

Pregnant mom’s high blood sugar affects kids at ages 10 to 14
Photo of a child wearing white t-shirt

Up to 20 percent of women develop gestational diabetes – high blood sugar – during pregnancy, but the long-term effects on their children haven’t been known.

Now, the first study to analyze the long-term effects found the 10-to-14-year-old children of women who had untreated gestational diabetes are more likely to have pre-diabetes and obesity than children whose mothers did not have higher blood sugar, Northwestern Medicine investigators report.

It’s already known obesity in the mother or a genetic predisposition for diabetes contributes to a risk for both obesity and diabetes in the next generation.

“Our study shows that independent of a mother’s weight or genetic predisposition to diabetes, a mother’s blood sugar level during pregnancy independently adds to the risk of both obesity and glucose intolerance in her child,” said lead investigator Dr. Boyd Metzger, professor emeritus of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

The paper was published Jan. 17 in the journal Diabetes Care. 

Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a woman without diabetes develops high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It increases the risk of pre-eclampsia, depression, Caesarean section and stillbirth.

“The fact that these conditions in the child at 11 years of age are related to the mom’s glucose level in her pregnancy is an additional reason gestational diabetes should be identified and treated,” Metzger said. “We do know that treatment will reduce immediate newborn complications but don’t know yet if it will reduce prediabetes in the older child.

“The mother’s glucose metabolism during her pregnancy (her ability to process sugar) affects her child’s glucose metabolism. We don’t understand why yet,” Metzger said.

The large international Hyperglycemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome Follow-Up Study (HAPO FUS) included 4,160 children ages 10 to 14 years who completed all or part of an oral glucose tolerance test and whose mothers had gestational diabetes at 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Northwestern authors include Dr. William Lowe, Lynn Lowe, Dr. Wendy Brickman, Michael Nodzenski, Octavious Talbot, Denise Scholtens and Alan Kuang.

Other institutions contributing to the research include: Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, National Institutes of Health, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, Manchester Academic Healthy Sciences Centre/School of Medical Sciences, The Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and Manchester Academic Healthy Sciences Centre/School of Medical Sciences, The Chinese University of Hong Kong/Prince of Wales Hospital, MetroHealth Medical Center/Case Western Reserve University. 

The HAPO study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, grants R01-HD-34242 and R01-HD-34243. HAPO FUS was funded by the National Institute for Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant 1U01DK094830.