Too much weight gain in pregnancy bad for child health
Women who gain too much weight during pregnancy run the risk of giving their offspring health problems in later life, researchers have found.
Experts discovered that the likelihood of developing cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases or type 2 diabetes during adulthood was greater in people born to mothers who were overweight during their late pregnancy.
Pregnant women should lead a healthy lifestyle, with even the period just before birth being "fundamental" to giving their children the best chance.
The findings are published as part of a major European obesity project, which concluded that strategies must be developed to prevent obesity in girls and in women of childbearing age.
The importance of a healthy diet was highlighted by a study that found the placenta of mothers eating a high-fat diet offered weakened protection to the foetus against the stress hormone cortisol.
This can mean foetal growth is reduced and offspring are more likely to suffer mood disorders in adulthood, researchers at the University of Edinburgh found.
Other key findings related to protective caps on the end of DNA known as telomeres. Having long telomeres protects the DNA to enable it to function and repair, while shorter telomeres are markers of disease .
But Dr Patricia Iozzo, who led the project, said that even if a pregnant woman was born with shorter telomeres and has a high body mass index (BMI), she can reverse the situation by being physically active.
The link between developing cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases and overweight mothers came from research by the University of Helsinki and Folkhalsan Research Centre, which followed 13,000 subjects from birth in the 1930s and 1940s until their present age.
Obesity affects one in six adults in the EU, an increase from one in eight a decade ago.
"The project has underlined the importance of preventing obesity in pregnancy, preventing excess weight gain during pregnancy and maintaining healthy diet," said Dr Iozzo, of the Institute of Clinical Physiology in Pisa, Italy.
"In the context of maternal-offspring health, attention should be devoted to the prevention of overweight and obesity among young girls, representing tomorrow's mothers."
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said women should try to be an ideal weight before they become pregnant.
"This report adds more to our knowledge about the importance of the environment in which the foetus is nurtured," she said.