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Mother’s intake of soft drinks during pregnancy tied to child’s obesity risk

Juice, diet soft drinks and water consumed during pregnancy were not linked to a higher BMI score in children. Photo: Shutterstock.comJuice, diet soft drinks and water consumed during pregnancy were not linked to a higher BMI score in children. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Pregnant women who drink non-diet soft drinks during pregnancy are more likely to have children who carry extra body fat by age seven, researchers say.

In the study of more than 1,000 mother-child pairs, each additional serving of sugary drink per day consumed in pregnancy was associated with higher increments of waist size and body mass in children years later.

“Sugary beverages have been linked to obesity in children and adults,” said study author Sheryl Rifas-Shiman of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Although past research has tied soft drinks and some fruit drinks to excess weight gain, obesity, metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, few have looked at beverage intake during pregnancy, she and her colleagues write in Paediatrics.

“Childhood obesity is widespread and hard to treat,” Rifas-Shiman said by e-mail. “So it’s important to identify modifiable factors that occur prenatally and during infancy so prevention can start early.”

The researchers recruited 1,078 women from among patients at eight obstetric offices affiliated with Atrius Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in eastern Massachusetts.

The study team had in-person meetings with each woman at the end of her first and second trimesters, as well as during the first few months after her baby was born.

In addition, children were assessed in early childhood, around age three, and in mid-childhood, around age eight. Mothers also completed mailed questionnaires every year for the child’s first six birthdays.

At all visits, researchers collected information about both parents and details of the household. During pregnancy, women answered questionnaires about what they typically ate and drank, including how much regular and sugar-free soft drinks, fruit juice, fruit drinks and water they consumed each day.

At the mid-childhood visit, when children were between ages six and 11 years, the research team measured each child’s height, weight, waist circumference and skinfold thickness. With these measurements, they calculated body fat percentage and body mass index (BMI).

When researchers looked at data gathered during pregnancy, they found that more than half of mothers had consumed more than half a serving a day of non-diet soft drink during pregnancy and nearly 10 per cent had consumed two or more servings a day.

Mothers who drank more sugary drinks during pregnancy tended to be younger, had higher pre-pregnancy BMI, lower education, lower income, shorter breastfeeding times and were more likely to have smoked during pregnancy.

About one-quarter of the children were overweight or obese by mid-childhood, and BMI, waist circumference and skinfold thickness were highest among children whose mothers drank at least two servings of sugary drinks per day.

Only regular sodas were associated with this difference. Juice, diet soft drink and water consumed during pregnancy weren’t linked to a higher BMI score in children. The research team also did not see differences based on the mother’s weight, race or ethnicity, the child’s gender or the amount of soft drinks children themselves drank.

“I was surprised that maternal intake seemed to be more important than child intake,” Rifas-Shiman noted.

In the future, she and colleagues plan to study the long-term effects of efforts to reduce sugary beverage intake during pregnancy. They’re now using new methods to analyse when children’s intake of sugary beverages matters the most for their weight and health.

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