Children of obese mothers have more heart problems and die earlier than children of normal-weight mothers, according to a longitudinal study from the University of Edinburgh.

MedPage Today reports that the study analyzed statistics collected from the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal data bank, focusing on the 37,709 births between 1950 and 1976. This data was subsequently compared to Scottish mortality and morbidity registers.

After adjustment for socioeconomics, demographics, and gestational factors, the researchers found that children born to obese mothers exhibited a 35 percent higher risk of dying from any cause, as well as a 29 percent higher risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular complications.

"Our findings highlight the urgent need for strategies to prevent obesity in women of childbearing age and the need to assess the offspring of obese mothers for their cardiovascular risk," the researchers wrote in the journal BMJ. “The offspring of obese mothers are a high-risk group who should be assessed for cardiovascular risk and actively encouraged to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Maternal Obesity: A Growing Concern

According to Pam Factor-Litvak of Columbia University School of Public Health, the health risks attending maternal obesity do not end there. Other recorded complications include preeclampsia and gestational diabetes in mothers, as well as large-for-gestational-age and fetal distress in newborns. Later on, children run a higher risk of developing asthma and hypertension.

In addition, children born to obese mothers tend may develop their own metabolic complications and weight problems.

“As with maternal undernutrition, maternal overnutrition and obesity are associated with definite changes in the intrauterine milieu, such as increased circulating cytokines, glucose concentrations, and lipids, as well as increased insulin resistance,” Factor-Litvak wrote in an editorial accompanying the new study. “Offspring may experience permanent or transient changes in metabolic programming, leading to inappropriate appetite regulation and behavioral problems associated with obesity in adult life.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has experienced a dramatic increase in obesity over the past 20 years, with more than one-third of the adult population exceeding a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30. Similarly, almost one-fifth of adolescents aged 2-19 suffer from childhood obesity.

To curb the obesity epidemic, the researchers recommend that future maternal care involve weight optimizing strategies.

"This could avoid perpetuation of an intergenerational cycle of obesity," they concluded.

Source: Reynolds RM ,Allan KM ,Raja EA ,Bhattacharya S ,McNeill G ,Hannaford PC ,et al. “Maternal obesity during pregnancy and premature mortality from cardiovascular event in adult offspring: follow-up of 1 323 275 person years.” BMJ 2013;347:f4539