Weight Gain During Pregnancy May Be Linked to Later Growth Patterns in Daughters

New study results show that rapidly adding pounds in the first and final months of gestation likely plays a key role in the development of excess fat tissue in female children and adolescents.

Rapid weight gain in the first and final months of pregnancy may play a key role in the development of excess fat tissue in female children and adolescents, according to results of a study from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin.

In the study, published in Obesity, nutritional science investigators looked at more than 300 pregnant women and followed their children from aged 5 to 14 years. The investigators connected patterns of weight change in pregnancy to patterns of their children’s body fat percentage, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference during childhood and early adolescence.

“We wanted to understand whether different weight change patterns during pregnancy impacted the child’s growth over time or the child’s potential to develop excess fat tissue,” Beth Widen, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at UT Austin, said in a statement.

“For boys, we didn’t really see that much of a difference in their patterns of weight and body size over time, but for girls, we saw some striking differences. This tells us there are differences between the sexes in this area of child growth,” Widen said.

Weight change during pregnancy generally followed 4 distinct patters in the study. One group of pregnant women in the study lost weight during the first trimester, gained moderately during the second, and gained rapidly in the third.

Another group experienced slow weight gain across all 3 trimesters. A third group saw slow weight gain during the first trimester and moderate weight gain through the end of pregnancy.

The last group experienced rapid weight gain during the first trimester, followed by slow weight gain during the second, and moderate weight gain during the third.

Investigators found that girls born to the fourth group in the study, those who gained weight quickly during the start and end of pregnancy, had the highest BMI measurements and body fat percentages and the largest waist circumferences between aged 5 and 14 years.

Additionally, girls born to the individuals in the first group, those who lost weight during the first trimester, gained moderately during the second, and rapidly in the third, had the lowest BMI measurements and body fat percentages and waist circumferences among those studied.

No clear-cut pregnancy weight and childhood body composition patterns emerged with males in the study.

This may be because of differences between the sexes in development and growth, in addition to differences in how females and males respond to prenatal exposures, Widen said.

Investigators emphasize that finding a pattern in children’s body composition from pregnancy and across childhood is not the same as detecting causation, so further research is needed.

“This study shows us that there may be sex differences in child body composition based on what they are exposed to in utero,” Widen said in the statement. “It is possible that these findings are just the start of research that can help us further understand risk factors for childhood obesity and may help us develop more individualized weight gain guidelines that support pregnant people.”.

Reference

Weight gain in pregnancy may be linked to later growth patterns in daughters. Eurekalert. News release. February 9, 2022. Accessed February 9, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/942298