Stress during pregnancy might predict obesity in offspring

Mothers who are stressed during pregnancy might unknowingly predispose their unborn child to diabetes and obesity later in life, a new study suggests.

Research being presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) found that offspring who show passive coping techniques – and who were born to mothers stressed during pregnancy – have a higher risk for developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Passive vs. active coping

Passive stress coping refers to a state of helplessness and lack of control over challenging circumstances, and it is typically seen more in introverted individuals. People who cope with stress passively tend to rely heavily on others to help solve their problems, the researchers from Johns Hopkins stated. Active stress copers, on the other hand, are more likely to tackle problems as they arise and deal with them quickly and effectively.

Previous research on rodents has shown that both prenatal stress exposure and passive stress coping can predispose offspring to Type 2 diabetes. The new study found that, depending on the coping style of the offspring, different outcomes for obesity were seen. Rats that showed passive coping techniques were more likely to gain weight and have impaired glucose tolerance.

"These results may imply that in our efforts to prevent obesity and its associated disorders we need to advise pregnant women to reduce stress exposure during their pregnancy," said lead study investigator Gretha Boersma. "In addition, this data may lead to the identification of at-risk offspring by looking at their stress coping style and prenatal environment, and then tailoring a prevention strategy accordingly."

Source: Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior
Image: Flickr/ (Creative Commons) Frank De Kleine

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