Background: Excessive pregnancy weight gain is associated with obesity in the offspring, but this relationship may be confounded by genetic and other shared influences. We aimed to examine the association of pregnancy weight gain with body mass index (BMI) in the offspring, using a within-family design to minimize confounding.
Methods and findings: In this population-based cohort study, we matched records of all live births in Arkansas with state-mandated data on childhood BMI collected in public schools (from August 18, 2003 to June 2, 2011). The cohort included 42,133 women who had more than one singleton pregnancy and their 91,045 offspring. We examined how differences in weight gain that occurred during two or more pregnancies for each woman predicted her children's BMI and odds ratio (OR) of being overweight or obese (BMI≥85th percentile) at a mean age of 11.9 years, using a within-family design. For every additional kg of pregnancy weight gain, childhood BMI increased by 0.0220 (95% CI 0.0134-0.0306, p<0.0001) and the OR of overweight/obesity increased by 1.007 (CI 1.003-1.012, p = 0.0008). Variations in pregnancy weight gain accounted for a 0.43 kg/m(2) difference in childhood BMI. After adjustment for birth weight, the association of pregnancy weight gain with childhood BMI was attenuated but remained statistically significant (0.0143 kg/m(2) per kg of pregnancy weight gain, CI 0.0057-0.0229, p = 0.0007).
Conclusions: High pregnancy weight gain is associated with increased body weight of the offspring in childhood, and this effect is only partially mediated through higher birth weight. Translation of these findings to public health obesity prevention requires additional study. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.