Here’s the skinny on chubby baby boys.
Most folks find chunky newborns plum adorable, owing to their squeezable cheeks, plump thighs and rightly rounded bellies.
However, a January study from the University of South Australia has determined that male tots born to obese moms are likely to be overweight at birth, and are at high risk of developing metabolic complications in later life.
“Men are more prone to non-alcohol fatty liver diseases and diabetes as an adult if their mother is obese during pregnancy and their birth weight is above 9 pounds and 15 ounces,” Ashley Meakin, research author and Health Sciences clinician at UniSA, explained to Science Daily.
The investigatory team discovered that male fetuses of obese pregnant women often produce an excess of androgens — sex hormones, such as testosterone, that influence developmental characteristics like bone density and muscle growth in all genders.
But, in unborn boys of portly moms, the male sex hormones in the liver grow more rapidly due to the fetal liver-specific androgen signaling that occurs during gestation.
Maternal obesity reduces the activity of testosterone-metabolizing enzymes in the male fetal liver, which prompts the production of more androgens.
The increase ultimately causes male fetuses to grow too large and develop a propensity for liver-related medical issues.
“[Males] are genetically wired to prioritize androgens because it supports the development of male characteristics, including size,” said Meakin, “but too much androgen is bad.”
However, when female fetuses are overexposed to testosterone during an obese pregnancy, their bodies naturally switch off the androgen pathway in the liver, restricting their growth and lowering the risks of metabolic disorders in adulthood, according to the report.
“These findings support growing evidence that females and males elicit distinct adaptations to similar intrauterine environments, such as those complicated by maternal obesity,” noted the study.
The new discovery doubled down on a previous report from the CDC, which noted moms who carry too much weight raise the risk of the baby becoming obese and diabetic down the road.
Janna Morrison, lead author of the probe and head of the Early Origins of Adult Health Research Group at UniSA, encouraged expecting women to strike a healthy nutritional balance in order to ensure optimal conditions for themselves and their unborn child.
“As a society, we urgently need to address obesity,” Morrison told SD. “If children were taught early on about the importance of healthy eating, it would carry through into adulthood, including during pregnancy, where the right nutrition is so important.”
The researcher’s sentiments were previously voiced by formerly obese mother Kara Beck, who tipped the scales at a life-threatening 368 pounds while carrying her son in 2022.
She rushed to drop 200 pounds after learning that the excess weight was putting the baby in grave danger.
“When I was seven months pregnant…my blood pressure got so high that the doctors said I could have lost the baby,” said Beck, from Kansas City, Missouri. Thankfully, she welcomed a healthy bundle of joy, and is now leading a healthier life.
“I needed to overcome the bad habits of my childhood that had led me to be so obese in the first place.”