‘Eating for Two’ During Pregnancy Increases Risk of Health Problems Among Children

Pregnant Woman EatingDespite the common saying, pregnant women should not “eat for two.” Children born to mothers who gain too much weight during pregnancy have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes compared with children born to mothers who gain a healthy amount of weight, conclude the findings of new research published as part of the DORIAN consortium funded by the European Commission.

DORIAN, or Developmental Origins of Healthy and Unhealthy Ageing: The Role of Maternal Obesity, is a major European obesity project, The Seventh Framework Programme, that supports research into the process of healthy ageing and age-related illnesses, biomedical advances, and prevention and disease management strategies.

Developed from research by the University of Helsinki and Folkhalsan Research Centre in Helsinki, Finland, which followed more than 13,000 subjects from birth in the 1930s and 1940s through the present, the findings linking excessive maternal weight gain during pregnancy to health problems later in later among children highlight the importance preventing obesity in girls and in women of childbearing age. The study found that the placenta of mothers eating a high-fat diet offered weakened protection to the fetus against the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the brain that is released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucose. The hormone functions to increase blood sugar; suppress the immune system; and aid the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Excessive levels of cortisol in the blood can cause health problems.

Babies born to overweight mothers also have shorter telomeres, the protective ends on chromosomes that shorten with age. Telomeres protect the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Long telomeres protect the DNA, enabling healthy function and repair. Shorter telomeres are markers of disease and a shorter lifespan

Overall, the study found that babies born to overweight mothers heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and depression, among other health problems, compared to babies born to mothers of healthy weight.

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, argues that women should achieve a healthy weight before pregnancy:

“This report adds more to our knowledge about the importance of the environment in which the foetus is nurtured.

“After birth, women need support to develop healthy patterns of eating and exercise for themselves and their family. For women who are overweight or obese they need support and signposting to access weight-loss services to ensure that they are an ideal weight before they embark on their next pregnancy.”

Comments project leader Dr. Patricia Iozzo of the Institute of Clinical Physiology, National Research Council (CNR) in Pisa, Italy, said:

“The Dorian project has underlined the importance of preventing obesity in pregnancy, preventing excess weight gain during pregnancy, and also maintaining healthy diet without too much fat, all of which can have short and long term effects on the health of the mother and her child.

“In the context of maternal-offspring health, attention should be devoted to the prevention of overweight and obesity among young girls, representing ‘tomorrow’s mothers’. Targeted strategies are also needed to ensure pregnant women do not add excess weight and protect their physical and mental health, and that of their children.”

Another study from last year found that overweight or obese women who believe the old-fashioned “eating for two” adage during pregnancy are more likely to gain excessive weight.


Developmental origins of healthy and unhealthy ageing: The role of maternal obesity:
Watch that baby bump: Women who pile on the pounds during pregnancy can create unhealthy kids:
Why pregnant women SHOULDN’T eat for two: Babies born to overweight mothers are ‘more likely to suffer health problems later in life’:
Women who put on weight in pregnancy risk passing on heart disease to their children:

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