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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Pregnant women need to reconsider ‘eating for two’ according to study which finds link between weight gain and diabetes and obesity in children

  • International study by Chinese University in Hong Kong finds even mild increase of glucose in expectant mothers raises risks
  • Findings mean even though diabetes is non-communicable disease, risk can be transmitted from mother to child, researchers say
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 8:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 10:55pm

Children face a greater risk of diabetes and obesity if their mothers gain too much or too little weight during pregnancy, according to researchers at a Hong Kong university.

The international study, by Chinese University (CUHK), found even a mild elevation of glucose in expectant mothers was associated with an excess birthweight and increased chance of pregnancy complications. It followed research on 800 pairs of Hong Kong mothers and children for 11 years, part of a broader Hyperglycaemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome study involving 25,000 pregnant women from 15 centres worldwide.

The study also dismissed the idea of “eating for two”, said Professor Tam Wing-hung of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, explaining there was a U-shaped relationship between a pregnant mother’s weight gain and cardiovascular risks in offspring.

“Gaining too much or too little weight will both result in health problems, such as high blood pressure and poorer blood sugar control for children,” Tam said.

Professor Ronald Ma Ching-wan, a specialist in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, said they found that even in children born to mothers who had only a mild elevation of glucose – a condition called gestational diabetes – they were already three times more likely to have either elevated glucose or diabetes by the age of seven.

“By the age of 11, children born to mothers with gestational diabetes had a 50 per cent higher chance of being obese,” Ma said.

The study’s findings meant that even though diabetes is a non-communicable disease, the risk can be transmitted from mother to child, the researchers said.

Another study was conducted to examine the effectiveness of a Lifestyle Modification Programme, which the CUHK Centre for Nutritional Studies developed to help people stay at a healthy weight.

A total of 220 pregnant women at risk of gestational diabetes were recruited and assigned to a modification programme group or a control group.

Ruth Chan Suk-mei, senior research fellow at the Centre for Nutritional Studies, said the lifestyle programme “is effective in improving excessive gestational weight gain and dietary quality among pregnant women”.

Bernice Cheung Ho-ki, a registered dietitian at the centre suggested pregnant women eat an even spread of food throughout the day and prepare healthy snacks.

“For those who have to dine out most of the time, they should avoid soup and soft drinks, remove animal skin and fat, and avoid minced meat.”

The US Institute of Medicine guidelines said the recommended weight gain for women with a normal body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 should be 25 to 35 pounds. For a BMI under 18.5, they should gain from 28 to 40 pounds. The recommended weight gain for overweight mothers was 15 to 25 pounds, while for obese mothers it was 11 to 20 pounds.