Maternal caffeine intake associated with excess infant growth, overweight

Researchers found a link between childhood weight gain and caffeine

"Putting together the previous findings of the MoBa study, we have shown that children prenatally exposed to high caffeine levels are smaller at birth, grow faster in infancy and retain a higher weight throughout childhood without significant height differences, thus becoming overweight", the researchers wrote.

The NHS advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine consumption to no more than 200mg a day - equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee, and just under three cups of tea.

In a prospective cohort study of 50,943 mothers and their children recruited from 2002 to 2008, Norwegian researchers looked at the potential association between caffeine intake during pregnancy and child weight gain/overweight risk. The researchers divided the intake into low (less than 49 mg), average (50-199), high (200-299), and very high (more than 300).

"Notwithstanding, the work adds to a growing body of evidence that a break from a cuppa during pregnancy may be good for the health of the next generation".

The higher the intake of caffeine, the greater was the likelihood that the mother was older than 30, had more than one child, consumed more daily calories, and smoked during her pregnancy. "It may well be that the relationship between caffeine intake in pregnancy and infant growth in the first year of life is spurious".

"Maternal caffeine intake may modify the overall weight growth trajectory of the child from birth to eight years".

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.

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While any exposure to caffeine during pregnancy was found to impact negatively on the child's health, mothers who consumed "average, high and very high" levels of caffeine were more likely to see their child gain excess weight. 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.

This risk increased to 30 percent for a high intake of caffeine, and 66 percent for a very high intake. Paternal median caffeine intake was 193 mg per day, with caffeine from coffee cited as the main contributor, according to researchers.

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

"Severe side effects have been observed among patients consuming high dose of caffeine through energy drinks". The findings were published this week in the journal BMJ open.

Dr Clovis Palmet, Senior Monash University Fellow and Burnet Institute head of immunometabolism and inflammation, said: "The researchers provided no evidence of a causal link between prenatal exposure to caffeine and early childhood obesity".

During pregnancy, elimination of caffeine is prolonged, rapidly passing all biological membranes, including the blood-brain and placenta barriers, exposing the foetus. It has been linked to a heightened risk of miscarriage and restricted fetal growth.

However they do not warrant the need for women to abstain from caffeine at this stage, said Dr Pecoraro.

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