STUDY: Overweight mothers may be giving birth to biologically "older" babies

According to new research, babies born to overweight mothers are more likely to have aging-related diseases in the future

A new study from Belgium has found that babies born to overweight mothers may be biologically older than babies born to mothers of a normal weight, reports Live Science. The study found that a mother’s body mass index (BMI) was linked to shorter telomere lengths in the baby’s chromosomes.

"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," study co-author Tim Nawrot said in a press release. "So maintaining a healthy BMI during a woman's reproductive age may promote molecular longevity in the offspring."

overweight pregnancy Photo: Fotolia

What are telomeres?

Telomeres are found at the ends of chromosomes, and essentially, they’re what keep our cells from deteriorating. “They’re like the plastic ends on our shoelaces,” explained Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Associate Professor Jeffrey Craig (who was not involved in the study) to The Conversation

As people age, their telomeres naturally shorten—but not at the same rate. The longer a person’s telomeres are, the more times a cell can divide. “From very early on in our development, our telomeres start to shorten,” Craig continues. “When we age, our telomeres shorten and when they get very short, our chromosomes start to fray and come apart, and then our cells die.”

On the next page: read about the study, its findings, and what it means for parents.

Telomere lengths have been used for years to study biological aging, and shortened telomeres have been linked with aging-related diseases like “cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and increased mortality.” 

For the study, the researchers looked at data from 743 mothers aged 17-44 and their newborn babies, taking into account their weight before they got pregnant. They found that just a 1-point increase in the mother's BMI was linked to the telomere shortening by 50 base pairs—that's how much an adult loses in a year.

"We should encourage mothers and fathers to aim towards living a more healthy lifestyle"

overweight pregnancy Photo: Dreamstime

 "Our research team and I were a bit surprised by the fact that a relatively small change in maternal pre-pregnancy BMI was associated with a relatively strong change in newborn telomere length," writes co-author Dries Martens in an article expounding on the study.

“After seeing these results I think we should encourage mothers and fathers to aim towards living a more healthy lifestyle. We hope that people become more aware of the fact that having a healthy weight is not only beneficial for themselves but also for their offspring.”

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