Does exposure to hyperglycaemia in utero increase the risk of obesity and diabetes in the offspring? A critical reappraisal

Diabet Med. 2015 Mar;32(3):295-304. doi: 10.1111/dme.12625. Epub 2014 Dec 17.


Background: The idea that exposure to hyperglycaemia in utero is an important factor in the development of obesity and diabetes in the offspring has become entrenched as popular belief.

Aim: To appraise the literature supporting this hypothesis in the light of recent studies that have clarified the main drivers of obesity in children and adolescents.

Methods: A review of published evidence from animal studies, human observational studies, systematic reviews and experimental trials that address the impact of diabetes (Types 1 and 2, genetic or gestational) on the future risk of obesity and/or glucose intolerance in the offspring.

Results: Some animal studies support a relationship between exposure to hyperglycaemia in utero and future development of obesity and diabetes, but the results are inconsistent. Most of the human studies claiming to show a relationship have not taken into account important known confounders, such as maternal and paternal BMI. Evidence supporting a dose-response relationship between maternal hyperglycaemia exposure and obesity and diabetes in the offspring is weak, and there is no convincing evidence that treating gestational diabetes reduces the later risk of offspring obesity or glucose intolerance.

Conclusions: Exposure to hyperglycaemia in utero has minimal direct effect on the later risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The increased risk of obesity in the offspring of women with Type 2 or gestational diabetes can be explained by confounding factors, such as parental obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Diabetes Complications / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes, Gestational
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Glucose Intolerance / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / blood
  • Hyperglycemia / complications*
  • Maternal Health*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors


  • Blood Glucose