Childhood obesity appears to begin in a mother’s womb, a new study has concluded using state of the art technology to monitor fat levels in unborn babies.Researchers found some babies have similar build up of fat around their abdomen that adults aged in their 50s have.
The study of babies at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, west London, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to investigate links between childhood obesity and their mothers.
It reportedly found evidence that being overweight or obese in pregnancy could result in potentially harmful changes to a baby’s fat levels while still in the womb.
The study, led by Prof Neena Modi, one of Britain’s best experts on high-risk health problems in newborns found nearly a third of children had more fat than expected.
Of the 105 babies – 54 boys and 51 girls – a total of 31 babies had more adpose, or fat, tissue around their abdomen than normal.
Experts said the study was the first direct link that proved the weight of a mother-to-be was passed on to her child and showed that overweight mothers gave birth to fat babies.
“I was very surprised to be able to detect such a clear continuum of effect of maternal BMI (body mass index) on the baby,” said Prof Modi, head of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London.
“This is a very important finding indeed, opening the door to a new understanding of how a mother’s metabolism affects her baby.”
Newborn babies usually have about 700g of adipose tissue, but for each unit increase in maternal BMI, this increased by approximately 7g with a huge build-up in fat in the babies’ livers.
Meanwhile in adults, adipose tissue is found mainly under the skin, but also in deposits between the muscles, around the intestines and around the heart.
Prof Modi, who is also a consultant neonatologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, told the Daily Mail that all women should be aware of the effects of being obese and what this means for their child.
“This shows how sensitive the baby is to the environment experienced within the womb and how lifelong effects may be initiated before birth,” she said.
Body mass index is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres.
The World Health Organisation classes a BMI between 18.5 and 25 as normal weight, between 25 and 30 as overweight and over 30 as obese.
In adults, high amounts of fat around the stomach and in the liver impair their control of blood sugar, leading to diabetes. Problems associated with obesity are set to cost the NHS up to £6.3 billion a year by 2015.