WEDNESDAY, Feb. 27, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Infants born to obese women typically have a thickening of a key heart vessel that seems tied to their mom's excess weight, a new study shows.
The walls of a major heart vessel, the aorta, are already thicker in these babies than is seen in babies born to normal-weight moms, and the thickening occurs regardless of how much the infant weighed at birth, Australian researchers report.
A thickening of arterial walls is an independent risk factor for heart disease, the research team noted. They theorize that pregnant women who are overweight or obese may affect their babies' risk for heart disease and stroke later in life.
"The earliest physical signs of atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] are present in the abdominal aorta," a team led by Dr. Michael Skilton, an obesity researcher at the University of Sydney, wrote in the study. They note that arterial thickness is a key gauge of overall heart health in children.
The research involved 23 women who were 16 weeks pregnant. The average age of the participants was 35 years old. Of the participants, 10 gave birth to boys. The newborns' birth weight ranged from about four pounds to about 9.5 pounds.
The researchers scanned the abdominal aorta (the section of the artery extending from the heart down to the belly) of each baby within seven days of birth to assess the thickness of its two innermost walls.
The study revealed babies born to overweight or obese women had artery walls that were 0.06 millimeters thicker then babies born to women who were a normal weight.
The thickness of these walls, which ranged from 0.65mm to 0.97mm, correlated to the weight of each baby's mother, so that the babies born to the most overweight women had the thickest artery walls. This was true no matter how much the babies weighed at birth, the researchers added.
According to the Australian team, more than half of women of childbearing age in developed countries are now either overweight or obese. However, while the study found an association between a mother's weight and arterial thickness in her baby, it could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The study was published online Feb. 27 in the Fetal and Neonatal Edition of Archives of Disease of Childhood.
The March of Dimes provides more information on obesity during pregnancy.