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C-section Babies at Increased Risk of Obesity as Adults

In the United States in 2011, the Cesarean (C-section) delivery rate was 32.8 percent, accounting for the births of nearly 1.3 million babies. Although the majority of C-sections are performed when unexpected problems occur during labor and birth, some women choose to deliver via Cesarean despite an absence of problems. Now a new study from researchers at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom as published in the journal PLOS One discovered that babies born by Cesarean section are more likely to be overweight or obese compared with babies born via vaginal delivery.

Although relatively safe, Cesarean section is a major surgery that poses some risk to both mother and baby. Previous studies have suggested babies born by Caesarean are more likely to develop asthma or type 1 diabetes during childhood. The present study adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that C-section delivery can have potential long-term consequences for children.

Comments senior author Professor Neena Modi from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, “There are good reasons why C-section may be the best option for many mothers and their babies, and C-sections can on occasion be life-saving. However, we need to understand the long-term outcomes in order to provide the best advice to women who are considering Caesarean delivery.”

Noting that obesity rates have increased worldwide over the past 20 years, the researchers in the present study conducted a review and meta-analysis on 15 studies with over 38,000 participants from 10 countries.

Upon reviewing the data, the researchers discovered that adults born by C-section had a body mass index (BMI) that was half a unit more than individuals born vaginally. The researchers concluded that the odds of being overweight or obese are 26 percent higher for individuals born via Cesarean section.

The researchers do caution that the association between C-section birth and higher BMI in adulthood is not yet causal. The association could be explained by other factors not recorded.

Explains Dr. Matthew Hyde:

“There are plausible mechanisms by which Caesarean delivery might influence later body weight. The types of healthy bacteria in the gut differ in babies born by Caesarean and vaginal delivery, which can have broad effects on health. Also, the compression of the baby during vaginal birth appears to influence which genes are switched on, and this could have a long-term effect on metabolism.”

Prof. Modi additional explains that research must now determine whether the link is causal or if other factors are responsible for the association: “At the present we are working with pregnant women, their partners and clinical staff to obtain their views on whether a randomized controlled trial of C-section where no medical indication exists would be acceptable to them.”

The researchers are currently investigating biological mechanisms that could explain the association between obesity in adulthood and C-section births.

A 2012 study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood found a similar link between Cesarean births and childhood obesity.

References

C-section Babies Have Higher Odds of Being Overweight Adults: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/273321.php
Mode of Delivery and Offspring Body Mass Index, Overweight and Obesity in Adult Life: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0087896

Image Credits

Cesarean Section: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cesarian_the_moment_of_birth.jpg

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