Obesity is a growing epidemic thought to be the cause of various growing health conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Doctors know obesity is a health risk, but what about the effect of obesity and the inflammation associated with the condition on the unborn fetus and pregnancy outcome?

When pregnancy occurs the body starts a series of thousands of tiny changes that result in the birth of a new baby. Each of these mechanisms must occur at just the right time and in just the right way for a healthy pregnancy from start to finish. Any deviations in these mechanisms are referred to as pregnancy complications. With such focus on obesity in terms of general health and the disease process, researchers wanted to learn more about the potential role of inflammation associated with obesity on the mechanisms of pregnancy. 

Catherine A. Thornton, an investigator of the study published in Advances in Neuroimmune Biology, states why this research is important. “While great progress has been made in elucidating the immunological mechanisms that ensure reproductive success, we now need to understand the impact of a very modern epidemic on immune response at the materno-fetal interface, as well on the mother and the child.”

According to researchers working on the report, obesity can affect the fetus well beyond birth. Inflammation may reduce circulation in the mother and thus hinder blood flow to the fetus. The fetus may develop increased fat deposits and hypertension. Moreover, the effects on the fetus can last into childhood even if the child eats a normal healthy diet after birth.

Further study revealed inflammation and obesity can cause an increased risk of preeclampsia – affecting the mother and child by causing increased blood pressure, increased risk of premature delivery and increased risk of death. Immune system function may also be altered in the fetus causing the increased risk of strep B infections after birth. As the fetus shows signs of hyper-responsiveness to inflammatory conditions, the child may be more prone to develop allergies.

As more and more children are diagnosed with diseases that once affected only adults, researchers are finding a link between obesity, inflammation and increased risk of disease in both the fetus and children born to obese mothers.

Source: .A. Thornton, R.H. Jones, A. Doekhie, A.H. Bryant, A.L. Beynon, and J.S. Davies. Advances in Neuroimmune Biology. 10 January 2012.