A new study has linked caffeine in pregnancy to higher rates of childhood obesity. Monday’s publication of the journal BMJ Open cited the research that demonstrated that excessive caffeine intake by a pregnant woman increased the odds of an excess growth pattern during the baby’s first year, as well as an increased risk of childhood obesity eight years down the road. Because both of these factors are associated with higher rates of obesity throughout adulthood, the study was able to point back to the caffeine intake in pregnancy as a contributing factor. The study was led by Eleni Papadopoulou from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study took place between 1999 and 2008, asking over 50,000 Norwegian women to report their caffeine intake at the 22-week mark of the pregnancy. The children’s growth patterns and weight measurements were then tracked and recorded periodically from 6 weeks to 8 years of age. The women were asked to self-report all types of caffeine intake and not just that derived from common caffeinated beverages. The reported caffeine intake was divided into four groups depending on the average amount of caffeine consumed, measured in milligrams. Current guidelines advise that pregnant women limit their daily caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day.
For decades, it has been known that caffeine is able to pass the placenta barrier freely, thus limiting the growth of the fetus. The current line of thinking is that caffeine absorption in utero could possibly affect the progress and growth of the hypothalamus-pituitary axis. This part of the brain is responsible for the imperative control of the various hormones regulating many of the factors linked to growth throughout childhood. Because of this connection, researchers believe that excess caffeine to the fetus leads to reduced development while in the womb and increased weight gain following birth and later in life.