Childhood Obesity Linked to Gestational Diabetes

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 - 5:47pm

By: Stephanie Clarke and Willow Jarosh

As we continue to look for new reasons for and solutions to America’s obesity problem, a new study highlights the importance of prenatal health and proper prenatal care. In one of the largest studies of gestational diabetes and obesity, researchers discovered a strong link between high blood sugars during pregnancy and having an overweight or obese child.

How Mom's Blood Sugar Affects Baby's Future Weight

Researchers found that children born to mothers with gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy) had an 82% chance of becoming obese between the ages of 5 and 7. Interestingly, they also found that even women who had elevated blood sugars, not quite high enough to be considered gestational diabetes, still had a significantly higher risk of having an obese child than women with blood sugars on the lowest end of normal.

This increased risk for obesity might have to do with something called metabolic imprinting. Metabolic imprinting refers to how a mother’s diet during pregnancy and infant feeding affect her baby’s likelihood of developing certain diseases later in life. When a mom has increased blood sugars, her baby gets more sugar and consequently becomes “overfed”. Doctors believe that this overfeeding plays a role in increasing obesity later on. The good news is that the children whose mothers who got treatment for their gestational diabetes and controlled their blood sugars did not experience an increased risk of obesity. This illustrates the importance of proper screening and treatment of gestational diabetes.

If you are or plan on becoming pregnant, read below to find out the risks, complications, and treatment options for gestational diabetes.

Are You at Risk?

There are certain factors that put you at a higher risk for developing gestational diabetes. These include the following:
Age: Being older than 25.
Family or personal history: Having pre-diabetes before becoming pregnant, a parent or sibling that has type 2 diabetes, or having had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy.
Weight: Being overweight before pregnancy.
Race: Being African American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian.

Get Screened!

For most women, gestational diabetes testing is, and should be, a part of routine prenatal care. Testing is recommended between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation; however, some women at high risk will be tested earlier than this. Gestational diabetes can occur in women with no prior risk and is often without symptoms, which makes testing even more important.

Other Complications

In addition to potentially affecting your child’s future weight, untreated gestational diabetes can have other complications. For mom, it can increase the risk for preeclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy), developing gestational diabetes in future pregnancies, and type 2 diabetes after pregnancy. It can result in shoulder dystocia (an obstetrical emergency where the baby’s shoulders are too big to fit through the birthing canal) leading to cesarean section. Babies are at increased risk for low blood sugar after birth (hypoglycemia), respiratory distress syndrome, jaundice, and death.


Many women are able to control their gestational diabetes with changes in diet and exercise, while others need medication. Whichever the method, it's most important to find a treatment that works and stick to it throughout the entire pregnancy.

Dietary changes may include reducing intake of concentrated sweets, controlling carbohydrate intake, and eating consistent meals and snacks. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories is also recommended. Since needs vary depending on a variety of factors, doctors will often recommend that women visit a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator to assist in specific meal planning.

Exercise can also have very favorable effects on blood sugar and should be included as part of the treatment plan. Your doctor should approve any exercise plan before you begin.

Medication such as insulin injections may be needed for women who cannot achieve adequate blood sugar control with diet and exercise alone. In some cases, the oral medication Glyburide might also be safe.