Obesity and gestational diabetes in mothers linked to early puberty in daughters

09 June 2016

Daughters of overweight mothers who develop gestational diabetes are significantly more likely to experience the earlier onset of puberty.

The Kaiser Permanente research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, followed 421 girls and their mothers as part of the Young Girls’ Nutrition, Environment, and Transitions research programme (known as CYGNET).

The researchers say that American girls are maturing earlier now than they were a few decades ago, and early puberty increases the risk of adverse health outcomes, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and cancer in adolescence and adulthood.

The girls were followed between 2005 to 2012, with annual clinic visits to measure height, weight and other parameters. Trained personnel assessed the onset of puberty by physical examination.

Researchers found that girls whose mothers were overweight before pregnancy and who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy were 2.5 times more likely to have earlier onset pubic hair development than their peers whose mothers had normal weight and no gestational diabetes.

This association was independent of race or ethnicity, household income and the mother’s age at her first menstrual cycle.

The study’s lead author, Kaiser Permanente epidemiologist, Dr Ai Kubo, says this is one of the first studies to look at the association between the mother’s pregnancy and the timing of puberty in daughters.

“Women who are planning on becoming pregnant or are pregnant should be aware that their obesity or gestational diabetes may influence their child’s health in the future, beyond the known risk of childhood obesity,” Dr Kubo says.

The study adds to the previous analyses of CYGNET data, which showed that maternal obesity and gestational diabetes were linked to obesity in daughters, and that obesity was linked to early puberty in the girls.

This latest study found that in utero exposure to gestational diabetes and maternal obesity was associated with earlier arrival of puberty in daughters, regardless of the girl’s obesity status. The finding suggests that metabolic programming may be affected in the daughters, which can manifest in the early onset of pubic hair development, a marker of metabolic impairment.

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