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Samantha Ehrlich, professor of public health at the University of Tennessee, explains how gestational diabetes can increase the risk of early childhood obesity.



ANDREA SCHNEIBEL: Welcome to Science Minute, a research audiocast by the University of Tennessee. I’m Andrea Schneibel.

The children of women who experience elevated glucose levels during pregnancy, even if they are not diagnosed with gestational diabetes, are at an increased risk of developing obesity between ages 5 and 7, according to a new study coauthored by Samantha Ehrlich, UT professor of public health.

SAMANTHA EHRLICH: So, currently there’s a lack of clinical consensus regarding how elevated the glucose levels have to be for a woman to receive a diagnosis and treatment for gestational diabetes. What our study did, is we looked at levels of hyperglycemia and we looked at how each of those were associated with childhood obesity.

SCHNEIBEL: For the research, Ehrlich teamed up with scientists at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. Together, they analyzed data from more than 40,000 pregnant women.

EHRLICH: Compared to women who had normal levels of hyperglycemia on the screening test, those who went on to have a follow-up diagnostic test, regardless of what their levels of hyperglycemia were, they still had a 13 percent increase risk of their child developing obesity at 5 to 7 years of age.

For women who had the follow-up diagnostic test and were actually diagnosed with GDM [gestational diabetes mellitus], their children had a 52 percent increase risk of childhood obesity.

SCHNEIBEL: But the good news is awareness can have a positive impact on prevention.

EHRLICH: Our study also showed that women with a BMI [body mass index] indicative of overweight or obesity, they saw even higher risks when they developed hyperglycemia in their pregnancy. So, our study really suggests that we could try to prevent elevated BMI when a woman is entering pregnancy and try to reduce hyperglycemia later in her pregnancy, in an effort to impact childhood obesity later on.

SCHNEIBEL: For the University of Tennessee, this is Science Minute.

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