Children born to mothers who had COVID-19 while they were pregnant may be more likely to develop obesity, a new study has suggested.
The research, published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, studied around 150 infants born to mothers who had COVID during pregnancy and found they had lower birth weight followed by greater weight gain in the first year of life as compared to around 130 babies whose mothers did not have the virus while pregnant.
These changes have been associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in childhood and beyond, the Endocrine Society said.
Lindsay T. Fourman, M.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, one of the authors of the study, said: "Our findings suggest that children exposed in utero to maternal COVID-19 have an altered growth pattern in early life that may increase their risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease over time.
"There is still a lot of research needed to understand the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their children."
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The Endocrine Society said more than 100 million COVID cases had been reported in the United States since 2019, and there was still limited information on the long-term health effects of the infection.
It said pregnant women make up 9% of reproductive-aged women with the virus, and millions of babies will be exposed to maternal infection during foetal development over the next five years.
"Our findings emphasise the importance of long-term follow-up of children exposed in utero to maternal COVID-19 infection, as well as widespread implementation of COVID-19 prevention strategies among pregnant individuals," said co-author Andrea G. Edlow, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital.
"Larger studies with longer follow-up duration are needed to confirm these associations."
The study, Accelerated Longitudinal Weight Gain Among Infants with In Utero COVID-19 Exposure, was published online, ahead of print, the Endocrine Society said.
In January evidence emerged suggesting that COVID-19 infection might be linked to brain haemorrhages in unborn children.
Scientists from King's College London who examined tissues from foetuses said it was "extremely unusual" for the number of brain haemorrhages detected to have occurred.
Their study suggested that COVID might affect the foetal brain during the earliest stages of gestation, highlighting a need for further research into the potential impact on subsequent neurological development.