‘Overweight women reduce their babies’ life expectancy by 17 years
*Drinking alcohol before first pregnancy increases woman’s breast cancer risk by 35%
Women who are overweight before becoming pregnant could take years off their baby’s life.
Almost a third of women of child-bearing age are obese or overweight, as the nation’s waistlines expand.
A study now shows every point increase in a mother’s Body Mass Index (BMI), from a healthy level and above, before they fall pregnant can cut the equivalent of 18 months off their child’s life expectancy.
The most obese women could rob their baby of 17 years of life, though some time can be regained if they grow up with a healthy lifestyle.
The study is published in the journal BMC Medicine.
Scientists at Hasselt University in Belgium worked this out using telomeres – structures on the end of each strand of Deoxy ribo-Nucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material, which protect it like the plastic tip at the end of a shoelace.
BMI is a measure weight in kilogrammes divided by height in metres squared that is kg/m2. BMI of between 25 and 30 is considered overweight; between 30 and 35 is obese; 35 to 40 is moderately obese and above 40 is severely obese.
Telomeres are directly linked to how many times our cells can divide during their lifetime – and their length in newborns is believed to predict how long we will live. Babies with shorter telomeres also have less of a ‘buffer’ before they can develop killer diseases in later life, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Also, a new study by Cancer Council Victoria has looked in more detail at the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer in women.
The Herald Sun reported the study found women who drank before their first pregnancy could increase their risk of breast cancer by 35 per cent.
The study looked at 13,630 Victorian between the ages of 15 and their first pregnancy. It was revealed women who drank in their adolescence and early adult years increased their breast cancer risk.
Drinking beyond your first pregnancy was not shown to increase the the risk above those who did not drink. Cancer Council Victoria said drinking alcohol could lead to cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, bowel, liver and female breast.
The study, which was supervised by Prof. Dallas English from the University of Melbourne, revealed the risk was increased for women who drank during adolescence.
“Drinking alcohol in adolescence and before your first pregnancy may have a greater impact on breast cancer than consumption later in life,” English told the Herald Sun.
“It changes the risk from roughly one in nine to one in seven. Breast cancer is one of our major cancers, and not drinking alcohol during adolescence and the early 20s is one potential way of reducing that risk.”
English said while further studies needed to be done, women should limit their alcohol intake before their first pregnancy.
Prof. Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “This intriguing study provides further evidence of the life-long impact of maternal obesity on a child’s life. The study makes clear that babies born to obese mothers may be at greater vulnerability to chronic diseases in adult life.
“The study provides a strong justification for intervention in pregnancy, infancy, childhood and young adult life to tackling the national burden of obesity. It means advising women of reproductive age to maintain a healthy weight, supporting parents, and creating healthy societies to ensure infants and children do not become overweight.”
The Belgian study of 743 mothers aged 17 to 44, and their newborn babies, is the latest to suggest a woman ‘programmes’ her baby’s life chances in the womb. Obese women are already known to have much larger ‘sumo babies’, already at greater risk of heart disease as adults before they draw their first breath.