Lifestyle changes in pregnant women related to epigenetic changes in babies


A study conducted by researchers from Lund University in Sweden showed a link between lifestyle interventions in obese pregnant women and epigenetic changes in the baby. The study was published in the journal Diabetes.

An international collaboration between researchers in Sweden, Denmark and Spain investigated whether children’s genes were programmed differently when a pregnant woman with a BMI over 30 was subjected to lifestyle interventions.

The study included 425 pregnant women, all of whom have a BMI over 30, which is defined as obesity. They were randomly divided into three different groups:

  • Group 1 had a lifestyle intervention that included both physical activity (they were asked to walk 11,000 steps per day and use a pedometer) and a recommendation for a Mediterranean diet of 1200-1675 calories per day.
  • Group 2 had a lifestyle intervention that included only physical activity
  • Group 3 continued to live as usual (control group)

The researchers examined the umbilical cord blood of 208 newborns to see if epigenetic changes had occurred. One way that epigenetic changes occur is through DNA methylation, in which the activities of neighboring genes are altered by molecules that bind to DNA. Such changes occurred in 370 genes at a total of 379 locations in the genome, in the children whose mothers were part of the groups receiving lifestyle intervention.

Some of the genes that were epigenetically modified regulate metabolism, the development of adipose tissue, and the release of insulin. It was previously known that several of the altered genes were linked to type 2 diabetes.

We have seen that the babies of mothers in both lifestyle intervention groups, either with only physical activity or with the addition of a healthy diet, had increased muscle mass at birth compared to the control group. “

Charlotte Ling, professor at Lund University

The researchers also wanted to find out if the epigenetic changes affect the babies’ growth. The children involved in the study were therefore re-examined after 9, 18 and 36 months. 22 of the epigenetic changes found are related to the children’s BMI over time.

“In our study, we cannot demonstrate direct causality, but our results suggest that physical activity and a healthy diet during pregnancy in obese women affect epigenetics in newborns and likely affect child body composition and growth later in life . ” says Charlotte Ling.

Kristina Renault, obstetrician and counselor at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen and one of the researchers behind the study, previously showed that lifestyle intervention that included physical activity with or without a healthy diet resulted in decreased weight gain in pregnant women with a BMI over 30 Group participated in the current study.

“Increased physical activity and a healthy diet during pregnancy can reduce weight gain in pregnant women with obesity, which counteracts some of the otherwise increased risks associated with high BMI. The fact that children’s muscle mass appeared to increase and DNA von The umbilical cord showed epigenetic DNA changes, suggesting a potentially beneficial programming effect of a healthy lifestyle on children’s health, “concludes Kristina Renault.


Journal reference:

J. Jonsson et al. (2021) Lifestyle intervention in pregnant women with obesity affects umbilical cord blood DNA methylation, which is related to body composition in the offspring. Diabetes.