Obesity during pregnancy affects baby and placenta – but impacts vary depending on sex

Maternal obesity during pregnancy can negatively affect both the growth and health of the baby and the function of the placenta, but new research also finds the impacts vary depending on the sex of the child.

Dr Emily Camm shows that obesity during pregnancy affects baby and placenta, but impacts vary depending on sex.
Dr Emily Camm

While the adverse impacts of maternal obesity on the mother and baby have been established, the potential mechanisms linking maternal obesity to offspring health remain unknown, and now for the first time, research has shown that male and female babies are affected differently.

In a recent study carried out at the University of Cambridge and published in Acta Physologica, Dr Emily Camm from Hudson Institute showed the breadth and scale of these effects.

Maternal obesity reduces growth of the baby

“We were able to show in a pre-clinical model that maternal obesity reduced the growth of the baby, modified the structure of placenta, and altered the levels of proteins that control the mitochondria (the ‘powerhouses’ of cells that provide energy) and oxidative stress pathways,” said Dr Camm.

“But further to those impacts, it is now clear that the degree of these changes in the placenta depended on the sex of the baby.”

Findings could guide lifestyle interventions

Collectively, the data highlight that the effects of maternal obesity on fetal growth and subsequent offspring health may originate from sex-linked changes in placental structure and function during pregnancy.

The findings of this study could now be used to help guide the design of personalised lifestyle interventions or therapies for obese pregnant women.

Collatorators | Tatiana El-Bacha, Abigail Fowden, Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri

Funders | University of Cambridge Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience; UK Medical Research Council; Isaac Newton Trust; Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível; Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship; Lister Institute of Preventative Medicine Research

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