Foetal stress 'can lead to adult obesity'
Article date: 17 June 2014
Women who go through stressful experiences while pregnant are likely to give birth to children who will grow up to be overweight or obese, according to a new study.
Research carried out by Aarhus University in Denmark found those who are subjected to stress as a foetus are more susceptible to putting on weight as an adult.
While it had already been identified by previous investigations that this environment increased the risk of obesity in children aged between ten and 13 years, the fact the effect can also be extended into adulthood is something that was previously unknown.
In order to confirm their hypotheses, scientists focused on pregnant females who had experienced the death of a close family member while carrying their unborn baby. The development of any male children was then followed up until they became an adult.
The body mass index of almost 120,000 men was analysed between 2006 and 2011 as part of the study, before the data was then examined to try to identify any trends.
Dr Lena Hohwu from the Danish Department of Public Health said: "We have specifically investigated the stress factor that occurs when the child's mother loses a close relative just before or during pregnancy, that is, before the child is born.
"We have designated this as 'an indicator of severe stress' that can double the risk of developing obesity in adulthood."
However, Dr Hohwu admitted this type of stress is rare, so the team was now looking at whether or not there was a "general effect", with "the significance of divorce and the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy" two new avenues of research they have decided to pursue.
It's estimated that, in the UK, approximately one-quarter of adults and one in five children aged ten to 11 struggle with obesity.