Caffeine during pregnancy could lead to child obesity

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Study author Jean Golding argues that there is a connection between caffeine intake during pregnancy and weight of children aged up to eight years.

Even average rates of caffeine consumption while pregnant increased women's chances of their children being overweight at the age of three and growing excessively tall during infancy, the study by Norwegian Institute of Public Health found.

The study examined 50,943 women from across Norway who took part in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study between 1999 and 2008.

But the observational study did not provide a clear cause and effect.

Some experts are advising that the study should be viewed with caution.

And exposure to any caffeine level while in the womb was associated with a heightened risk of overweight at the ages of 3 and 5 years, although this persisted only for those 8 year olds whose mums had had a very high caffeine intake during their pregnancy.

"Although most pregnant women reduce their caffeine intake during pregnancy and few have caffeine intakes higher than 200 mg per day (10%), our results show associations between caffeine intakes below 200 mg per day and excess growth", the researchers wrote.

According to the findings, exposure to any caffeine level while in the womb was associated with a heightened risk of the child being overweight at the ages of three and five years.

Women with a very high caffeine intake during their pregnancy were also more likely to be poorly educated and to have been obese before they got pregnant. "These factors may have had stronger influence on early childhood obesity than dietary caffeine intake itself".

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"The results add supporting evidence for the current advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy and indicate that complete avoidance might actually be advisable", they added.

"Maternal caffeine intake may modify the overall weight growth trajectory of the child from birth to eight years". Coffee, black tea, energy drink, caffeinated soft drink, chocolate milk, chocolates, sandwich spread, cakes, ready-made candies, and desserts are a rich source of caffeine. Filter coffee has higher caffeine levels with the average mug containing 140mg of caffeine.

Compared with mothers with low caffeine intake during pregnancy (0 to 49 mg per day), researchers found that children born to mothers with high average caffeine intake (50-199 mg per day) were 1.15 times more likely to experience excess growth in infancy (95% CI, 1.16-1.45).

Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, disagreed that caffeine is the reason for the weight gain seen among the children in the study.

Under half (46 per cent) of the pregnant women were considered to have low caffeine consumption - less than 50mg a day.

"Severe side effects have been observed among patients consuming high dose of caffeine through energy drinks".

"If you can't separate the caffeine from the sugar, it's hard to prove that it's the caffeine that's the problem", Roslin explained.

The report was published online April 23 in the journal BMJ Open.

During pregnancy, elimination of caffeine is prolonged, rapidly passing all biological membranes, including the blood-brain and placenta barriers, exposing the foetus.

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