A new study from Belgium has suggested that there is a strong link between a mother being obese during her pregnancy and the child’s lifespan.

According to research, there is a positive link between a mother’s weight and the length of telomeres on a baby’s DNA.

Telomeres act as protective caps at the end of DNA strings to keep it from unravelling. They are often shorter in older individuals, and are an indicator of biological age.

However, scientists found that babies born to overweight mothers had shorter telomeres. For each point the mother scored above the “normal” BMI level, the child’s telomere was shortened by at least 50 base pairs. This is the equivalent to 1.1 to 1.6 years, meaning the amount of time that could be shaved off the child’s longevity.

During the research, the team followed 743 mothers who were aged 17 to 44 at the time of their pregnancy. The length of the child’s telomeres was measured from a blood draw of the umbilical cord immediately after delivery.

Professor Tim Nawrot, one of the authors of the study, stated of their conclusions:

“Compared with newborns of mothers with a normal BMI, newborns of women with obesity are older on a molecular level, because shortened telomere lengths mean that their cells have shorter lifespans.

So maintaining a healthy BMI during a woman’s reproductive age may promote molecular longevity in the offspring.”

According to the final research, it was determined that children born to obese mothers are biologically 12 to 17 years older than children born to mothers of a normal weight.

However, researchers say that there could be other factors that may influence telomere length. These may include the parents’ age, whether or not they smoke, ethnicity, socio-economic factors and the birth weight of the newborn.

Prof Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who was not involved in the study, stated:

“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.”

At present, around 30% of women in developed countries are obese when they give birth.

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