TUESDAY, Aug. 28, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- When women develop diabetes during pregnancy and don't get treatment, their kids face an increased risk of childhood obesity, but new research suggests that treatment can essentially eliminate that risk.
It's "remarkable" that the doubling of the risk of obesity can be completely reversed in these children, said study author Teresa Hillier, an endocrinologist and senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Northwest and Hawaii.
The findings could prompt expectant moms to take more care to comply with diabetes treatment during pregnancy, Hillier said. "If I were a mother, I'd be more motivated to know that it will not only help my baby during the pregnancy, but might decrease their chances of being overweight later on."
Diabetes that develops during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes, is a common problem for mothers. Pregnancy stresses the body, and some women become resistant to insulin and develop high blood sugar levels, Hillier said.
"The reason we screen for it is because if it's not treated, it causes an increased size of the baby, large birth weight, which causes problems with delivery for the mother and the baby," she said.
In the new study, Hillier and her colleagues examined Kaiser Permanente health records of 9,439 women who gave birth between 1995 and 2000 to see how untreated gestational diabetes would affect children at ages 5 to 7. Children who are fat at those ages are considered to face a high risk of lifetime obesity.
The study, funded by the American Diabetes Association, is published in the September issue of Diabetes Care.
If the mother's gestational diabetes wasn't treated, a child's risk of being overweight or obese was 82 percent to 89 percent higher, according to the study. But if the mother was treated, "they had the same risk" as the children of women who did not have gestational diabetes, Hillier said. "There was no difference in their risk."
Why would a mother's diabetes affect a child long after birth? The answer appears to lie in the child's metabolism, which develops during gestation and may be disrupted by the mother's high blood sugar levels, Hillier said.
The research is an "interesting first step," said Dr. Roger Unger, a diabetes specialist and a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. But, he added, it's difficult to wade through "an impossibly complex mixture of variables" and find a cause-and-effect relationship between gestational diabetes and childhood obesity.
Learn more about gestational diabetes from the American Diabetes Association.