Emerging research suggests moms with gestational diabetes could increase the risk of obesity in their children if they drink at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day.
Investigators from the National Institutes of Health compared children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank water instead of artificially sweetened beverages.
They discovered children born to women who had gestational diabetes and drank at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day during pregnancy were more likely to be overweight or obese at age seven.
Childhood obesity is known to increase the risk for certain health problems later in life, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
According to the study authors, as the volume of amniotic fluid increases, pregnant women tend to increase their consumption of fluids.
To avoid extra calories, many pregnant women replace sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices with beverages containing artificial sweeteners.
However, prior research has found that artificially sweetened beverages can increase weight gain. The study authors sought to determine if diet beverage consumption during pregnancy could influence the weight of children.
“Our findings suggest that artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy are not likely to be any better at reducing the risk for later childhood obesity than sugar-sweetened beverages,” said the study’s senior author, Cuilin Zhang, Ph.D., from the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
“Not surprisingly, we also observed that children born to women who drank water instead of sweetened beverages were less likely to be obese by age seven.”
The researchers analyzed data collected from 1996 to 2002 by the Danish National Birth Cohort, a long-term study of pregnancies among more than 91,000 women in Denmark.
At the 25th week of pregnancy, the women completed a detailed questionnaire on the foods they ate. The study also collected data on the children’s weight at birth and at seven years old.
In the current study, the NICHD team limited their analysis to data from more than 900 pregnancies that were complicated by gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy.
Approximately nine percent of these women reported consuming at least one artificially sweetened beverage each day. Their children were 60 percent more likely to have a high birth weight, compared to children born to women who never drank sweetened beverages.
At age seven, children born to mothers who drank an artificially sweetened beverage daily were nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese.
Consuming a daily artificially sweetened beverage appeared to offer no advantages over consuming a daily sugar-sweetened beverage. At age seven, children born to both groups were equally likely to be overweight or obese.
However, women who substituted water for sweetened beverages reduced their children’s obesity risk at age seven by 17 percent. It is not well understood why drinking artificially sweetened beverages compared to drinking water may increase obesity risk.
The authors caution that more research is necessary to confirm and expand on their current findings.