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Rapid Weight Gain During Pregnancy Linked to High BMI in Children and Adolescents: Research


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According to a recent publication in the Journal Obesity, the rapid weight gain by pregnant mothers specifically during the first and last trimester may play a role in excess fat tissue development in their young or adolescent daughters. Meaning, your weight change patterns during pregnancy may significantly influence the growth and development of your girl child.

The study was conducted by Nutritional Science researchers at The University of Texas, Austin, where 337 Dominican and African American mother-child dyads were enrolled. The mother’s eligibility criteria were,

  • Gestational age of 18 to 25 years 
  • With no self-reported diabetes, hypertension, HIV, drug use, or smoking during pregnancy. 

The mother’s gestational weights during different months of pregnancy, gestational age at delivery, maternal height, breastfeeding status were collected and recorded.  

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This was followed by noting their children’s body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and body fat percentage during childhood and early adolescence. Observations showed that the weight changes during pregnancy followed four distinct patterns. 

  • The first pattern showed participants lost weight during the first trimester, moderately gained during the second, and rapidly gained during the third. 
  • The second pattern showed slow weight gain across all three trimesters. 
  • The third pattern included slow weight gain during the first trimester, followed by a moderate weight gain through the pregnancy. 
  • The fourth pattern had rapid weight gain during the first trimester, slow weight gain during the second, and moderate weight gain during the third.

The researchers found that girls aged 5 to 14 years and born to the fourth pattern of the study had higher body mass index measurements, more waist circumferences, and higher body fat percentages than the other three patterns of gestational weight gain. Interchangeably, girls born to the first pattern study group had the lowest BMI, waist circumference, and body fat percentages in the study. 

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However, the researchers could not find a clear-cut link between pregnancy weight patterns and BMI or fat percentage among the adolescent boys considered in the study. Beth Widen, Assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at UT Austin speculates that sex-variable patterns may be due to differences in the growth and development among boys and girls, in addition to differences in how boys and girls respond to prenatal exposures. 

Widen adds saying, “This study shows us that there may be sex differences in child body composition based on what they are exposed to in utero,” “But really, we believe there is only a small portion of pregnancy weight gain that can be consciously changed — specifically among fat tissue — since much of the weight change is necessary to support the pregnancy. 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.”

Through the study findings, researchers emphasize and propose a new-directional approach to examine prenatal and postnatal growth and identify sex-specific patterns between pregnancy weight and child growth that were previously unobserved. 

This research was funded by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers, Irving General Clinical Research Center, Educational Foundation of America, John and Wendy Neu Family Foundation, New York Community Trust, the Trustees of the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund and the National Institutes of Health.


Gestational weight change and childhood body composition trajectories from pregnancy to early adolescence- Elizabeth M. Widen,Natalie Burns,Michael Daniels,Grant Backlund,Rachel Rickman,Saralyn Foster,Amy R. Nichols,Lori A. Hoepner,Eliza W. Kinsey,Judyth Ramirez-Carvey,Abeer Hassoun,Frederica P. Perera,Radek Bukowski,Andrew G. Rundle. DOI: 10.1002/oby.23367

Pooja N Swamy (M.Sc Biomedical Sciences)
Pooja Holds Master's Degree in Biomedical Sciences from Vellore Institute of Technology. She believes in strong research and clear understanding over the subject. Always determined and focussed with a thirst to learn new things. Hardworking, flexible and grounded to align with the goals.


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