TUESDAY, Aug. 13, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Here's another reason for young women to get their bad eating habits under control: Kids born to obese mothers are likely to die earlier than those born to normal-weight mothers, a new Scottish study suggests.
In the United States and Europe, about two-thirds of women of reproductive age are overweight and more than one-third are obese, according to the study. Previous research has suggested that obesity during pregnancy may boost the risk of high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which are linked to cardiovascular disease, in their offspring. The findings of the new study are even more ominous.
"We need to think about targeting children of obese mothers for lifestyle interventions to maintain a healthy weight," said study author Rebecca Reynolds, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
But the findings aren't conclusive, and it could be that the mothers' weight has nothing to do with the life spans of their children. It's possible, for example, that families with poor diets produce heavier moms and sicker kids.
Also, even if the link is confirmed, it's not clear if these offspring can alter their extra risk of dying earlier, the researchers added.
Earlier this year, a committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said all overweight or obese women should be offered nutrition counseling and be encouraged to follow an exercise program.
But the results of the new study suggest that weight-loss interventions should begin before pregnancy, according to Pam Factor-Litvak, author of an accompanying journal editorial.
For the study, published online Aug. 13 in the journal BMJ, the researchers tracked almost 38,000 people born in Scotland from 1950 onward who were aged 34 to 61 in 2011. They looked for data on the mothers body-mass index (BMI) -- a measurement of body fat based on height and weight -- and any deaths or heart disease among their children through that year.
Overall, more than 6,500 deaths from anycause were reported, and the leading causes of death were cardiovascular diseaseand cancer.
Those whose mothers were obese at birth -- meaning they had a BMI of 30 or higher -- were 35 percent more likely to have died by 2011 than those whose mothers were a normal weight.
These young and middle-aged adults were also about 29 percent more likely to have been admitted to a hospital because of a heart problem; overall, 8 percent were admitted for that reason.
The researchers came up with these numbers after adjusting their statistics to account for factors such as income level, gender, or maternal age at birth.
Children of mothers who were overweight -- a BMI of 25 to 29 -- were 11 percent more likely to die than those of mothers of normal weight.
The mechanisms behind this association aren't clear, and the researchers were lacking one crucial piece of information: whether the kids of obese pregnant moms became obese themselves. However, Reynolds said it's possible that genes play a role. Or, it's possible that the families of obese pregnant moms had poor eating habits that affected their children's health later on.
Shinga Feresu, an associate professor at Indiana University School of Public Health, said it's also possible that health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure could have thrown off the results. Overweight and obese children and teens are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, putting them at a higher risk of early heart disease, Feresu said.
Nonetheless, it's clear that "women who are obese need to reduce their weight to a healthy level before they become pregnant," Feresu said. "They will have a much healthier baby, with reduced risk of long-term disease and premature death."
Previous research has highlighted other obesity-related pregnancy problems. A study published in June in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that overweight or obese women who are pregnant are more likely to give birth prematurely, and the risk of preterm delivery increases with their amount of excess weight.
For more about obesity, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.