Determining the consequences of maternal obesity for offspring health

Exp Physiol. 2015 Dec;100(12):1421-8. doi: 10.1113/EP085132. Epub 2015 Nov 17.


What is the topic of this review? Observational studies have highlighted the association of increasing maternal body mass index with offspring adiposity and the subsequent risk of cardiometabolic disorders in adulthood. The in utero environment has become a target for intervention in order to reduce the burden of obesity, despite the mechanistic pathways of this association remaining unclear. What advances does it highlight? This short review provides a critical appraisal of the recent literature, including biological pathways and strategies to address causal relationships. The global obesity epidemic has been causally linked to changes in diet and lifestyle. Observational data and animal studies have now highlighted associations between in utero environmental exposures and increased susceptibility to obesity and related cardiometabolic disorders in later life. Maternal body mass index has been reported to show an independent association with offspring adiposity from an early age and to play an important role in the predisposition to obesity and metabolic disease in later life. Thus, the in utero environment has been the focus of recent targeted interventions to improve public health. In this review, we summarize recent progress in this field, including the use of animal models to investigate mechanistic links between maternal obesity and offspring metabolic risk. We then assess the level of evidence and challenges in establishing causal inferences from present birth cohorts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Relations / physiology*
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology*