Gestational Diabetes Associated With Higher Body Fat in Infants

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Babies born to mothers with gestational diabete had significantly greater adipose tissue.
Babies born to mothers with gestational diabete had significantly greater adipose tissue.

Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes had significantly more body fat at 2 months compared with babies born to healthy mothers, according to researchers at Imperial College London.

Study results published in Diabetes Care showed that babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes had lower levels of body fat at birth, but had 16% more adipose tissue at 2 months after adjustment for size.

Gestational diabetes affects nearly 10% of pregnant women in the United States and about 5% in the United Kingdom.

Karen Logan, PhD, senior project manager and network coordinator at Imperial College and the study's lead author, said in a press release that these are the first results to draw a connection between gestational diabetes and its impact on infants.

"This new study suggests diabetes in the mother can trigger changes in the baby at a very early stage,” she said. “Gestational diabetes is becoming more and more common, and babies born to these mothers are at increased risk of developing diabetes when they grow up. Therefore we need to understand what effects maternal diabetes has on the baby. "

Dr Logan and colleagues conducted a prospective longitudinal study using MRI and spectroscopy to quantify whole-body and regional adipose tissue volumes and intrahepatocellular lipid content within 2 weeks of birth and at 8 to 12 weeks after birth. The findings were adjusted for infant size and sex, and for maternal BMI pre-pregnancy.

The researchers recruited 42 infants for the gestational diabetes group and 44 for the control group. Thirty-eight and 35 babies, respectively, successfully completed 2 scans.

At a median age of 11 days, total adipose tissue volumes were similar in the gestational diabetes group vs the control group (-28 cm3; P=.55). At 10 weeks, however, adipose tissue volume was greater in the gestational diabetes group than the control group (247 cm3; P=.01).

Data demonstrated no significant differences in adipose tissue distribution and intrahepatocellular lipid content at either time point.

Researchers do not yet know why these babies gained weight faster than their peers, though researchers said that the study was not powered to detect small differences in adiposity that may have been present at birth. They speculated that the mother's diabetes may have affected the baby's metabolism while in the womb, may have caused infants to store more fat after birth, or could have changed the infant's appetite.

Gestational diabetes is often associated with obesity, but Dr Logan said that may not tell the whole story.

"Many of the women in our study were not overweight, and there are other possible causes of the condition, such as genetic predisposition,” she said. "All of the women in the study had their condition well-controlled; however, this study suggests that even good treatment during pregnancy may not be enough to prevent longer-term problems in the baby."

The team's next project will involve analyzing the composition of breast milk from mothers with gestational diabetes, Dr Logan noted. The researchers said that the composition of breast milk may be somehow different in mothers with the condition.

"The majority of babies in our study were breast-fed, and previous studies have suggested that diabetes may cause changes in breast milk so that it contains more sugar, fat ,or different levels of compounds that control appetite,” Neena Modi, MD, professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College and the paper's senior author, said in the release.

Reference

  1. Logan KM, Emsley R, Jeffries S, et al. Development of early adiposity in infants of mothers with gestational diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Care. 2016. doi:10.2337/dc16-0030.
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