Sugary drinks in pregnancy can lead to heavier children

Sugary drinks during pregnancy can lead to fat kids. (iStock)
Sugary drinks during pregnancy can lead to fat kids. (iStock)

Craving sugary drinks during your pregnancy? Watch out, because you might be putting your unborn child at risk of becoming heavier later in life.

A new study suggests that eight-year-olds who drank at least half a sugar-sweetened beverage each week were about 1kg heavier if their moms consumed more than two sugar-sweetened beverages a day during the second trimester of pregnancy, according to the researchers.

The study was published in the online version of Pediatrics.

Novel study

The study authors said it appears that the mother's consumption of sugary beverages made the difference in the child's weight, not the child's diet. There have been numerous observational and meta-analyses [studies] that have linked sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity to non-pregnant adults and children.

"But our study is novel because it is the first to examine associations of maternal beverage intake during pregnancy with childhood obesity," said study author Sheryl Rifas-Shiman, a biostatistician at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

What the study proved

However, the study can't prove a cause-and-effect link between an expectant mother's beverage consumption and her child's later weight. The study only showed an association.

For the study, the researchers asked approximately 1 100 pregnant women to report their food intake. These surveys were completed during each trimester of pregnancy. The surveys were done from 1999 to 2002. Expectant mothers chose from several categories of beverages, including fruit juice, diet soda, sugar-sweetened soda and water. The women were asked to rate, on average, how often they had these beverages.

Once the babies were born, the researchers conducted annual follow-up surveys with the mothers and the children for the next six years. The researchers also conducted in-person visits when the kids were around six months, three years and eight years old.

"We found that mothers who consume more sugary beverages during pregnancy had children with higher amounts of body fat, no matter what the kid's intake was," Rifas-Shiman said. She said she wasn't surprised by these results. Neither was Dr Tracey Wilkinson, who is an assistant professor of paediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Not only is the intake of sugar during pregnancy a risk for the unborn child's weight. According to a previous article published on Health24, a study revealed that higher blood sugar levels during pregnancy can also harm a baby's heart. It is therefore important to try and limit sugar intake during pregnancy and satisfy cravings with healthier options.

Watch your habits during pregnancy

"The whole theory about imprinting happening before babies are even born is becoming more mainstream and an accepted theory," Wilkinson explained. "Even the idea that maternal stress in pregnancy can affect outcomes for infants or children years down the road is becoming more acceptable, proven and evidence-based," she added.

The researchers found no parallels between an expectant mother's beverage intake during the first trimester and a child's weight. Beverages such as 100% fruit juice or diet drinks in the mother's diet didn't seem to change a child's weight gain.

pullout quote

According to Rifas-Shiman, the second trimester is when foetal fat is accumulated. That, she said, may be the reason why sugar-sweetened beverages during this time may be an issue. Wilkinson noted that children who gain extra weight at young ages tend not to grow out of it. "It is a challenge, and it's really hard for patients once [kids] are overweight to actually make a change in their growth curve trajectory," Wilkinson said.

Steer clear of sugary drinks 

Rifas-Shiman hopes her research can help change that problem. "We hope that women avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy can be one of the ways to help prevent childhood obesity," she said.

Both Wilkinson and Rifas-Shiman said water is the best thing to drink when thirsty. "I try to remind families that hundreds of years ago, we only had water," Wilkinson said. "Your body only needs water, and if you can get in the habit of drinking water, then that's the most healthy thing that you can drink."

Read more:

Recommended exercises in pregnancy

Suggested diet during pregnancy

Control diabetes before pregnancy

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