Harvard Pilgrim Institute Study Finds School-Aged Children Had Higher Amounts Of Body Fat If Mothers Consumed More Sugary Beverages While Pregnant

Study shows maternal intake of sugary beverages – rather than a child’s intake– contributes to child’s excess weight, and avoiding sugary beverages can help prevent childhood obesity

BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Research led by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute found an association between mothers who drank more sugary beverages during their second trimester of pregnancy and their children’s excess weight by mid-childhood, or nearly 8 years of age. The study appears in the August 2017 issue of Pediatrics, published online today.

“We found that mothers who consumed more sugary beverages in mid-pregnancy had children with higher amounts of body fat, no matter what the child’s intake was,” said corresponding author Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, MPH, Senior Statistical Analyst at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute. “Avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy could be one of several ways to prevent childhood obesity.”

The study, “Beverage Intake during Pregnancy and Childhood Adiposity,” looked at 1,078 mother-child pairs in a pre-birth cohort study in eastern Massachusetts. Researchers measured the mothers’ intake of sugary and non-sugary beverages during their first and second trimesters of pregnancy between 1999 and 2002. In-person study visits were conducted with participating mothers and children during the first few days after delivery and in infancy (median age 6.3 months), early childhood (median age of 3.2 years), and mid-childhood (median age of 7.7 years).

Among 8-year-old boys and girls of average height, their weights were approximately 0.25 kg higher for each additional serving per day of sugary beverages their mothers consumed while pregnant. Even among the children who drank less than that, the mother’s effect was about the same.

According to the study, maternal intake of the sugary beverages – rather than the child’s diet – was more strongly related to the child’s susceptibility to gaining excess weight. This lends credence to the hypothesis that the observed effects are due to the prenatal programming of susceptibility to obesity.

The study concluded that prevention strategies at the earliest stages of human development, including before birth, hold promise for prevention of obesity and non-communicable diseases across the life course.

Additional authors include Matthew W. Gillman, MD, SM; Silvia Fernandez-Barres, RD, MSc; Ken Kleinman, ScD; Elise M. Taveras, MD, MPH; and Emily Oken, MD, MPH.

To read the full report, click here. For an interview with the author, contact Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman at Sheryl_Rifas@hphc.org

About Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute’s Department of Population Medicine

The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute’s Department of Population Medicine is a unique collaboration between Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Harvard Medical School. Created in 1993, it is the only appointing medical school department in the United States based in a health plan. The Institute focuses on improving health care delivery and population health through innovative research and teaching.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
Kim Winn, 603-315-4426

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