Even moderate coffee consumption during pregnancy, one to two cups per day, is associated with an increased risk of overweight or obesity in preschool and school-age children, according to a new Scandinavian study published in the journal BMJ Open.
While the findings do not show that caffeine is the direct cause of the overweight, the researchers still encourage pregnant women to use caution when it comes to coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
“There may be good cause to increase the restriction of the recommended maximum of three cups of coffee per day. Caffeine is not a medicine that needs to be consumed,” says Dr. Verena Sengpiel, associate professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Sahlgrenska Academy, Sweden, and specialist physician at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.
Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy, in collaboration with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, evaluated the data of 50,943 pregnant women, in one of the world’s largest health surveys of pregnant women, the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa).
The findings reveal that children born to moms who consumed caffeine during pregnancy are at greater risk of being overweight at preschool and school ages.
Children were followed until eight years of age. Being overweight in childhood has previously been associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes later in life.
For example, the portion of five-year-old children who were overweight or obese was 5 percent greater in the group whose mothers had the highest caffeine consumption in the study, compared to those whose mothers had the lowest caffeine consumption.
Importantly, the link between caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of excess growth and overweight or obesity in children was found in women who had followed the recommended amount of caffeine consumption for pregnant women.
According to the National Food Agency, Sweden, pregnant women should not consume more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is equivalent to three cups of coffee or six mugs of black tea.
The new findings are supported by at least two other studies; however, these included significantly fewer participants and fewer sources of caffeine. This time, coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and other sources were included.
“In the Nordic countries, coffee is the primary source, while women in, for example, England receive the greatest amount of caffeine from black tea. If you look at mothers in the younger age group, it comes from energy drinks. We included different sources in the study and found a similar association between caffeine consumption from these different sources and children’s growth,” said Sengpiel.
In general, the gestational environment is viewed as being important in the turning off and on of genes and metabolic programming for the duration of life. Earlier studies on animals, in which embryos were exposed to caffeine in the womb, also show excessive growth and cardiometabolic disease in the offspring.
“Even if more studies are needed before we can say what this finding really means, caffeine is a substance that you can choose to reduce consumption of or completely refrain from during pregnancy,” Sengpiel said.
Source: University of Gothenburg