Published: Wed, April 25, 2018
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In Utero Caffeine Exposure Affects Early Childhood Weight

In Utero Caffeine Exposure Affects Early Childhood Weight

"In utero exposure to caffeine has been related to an increased risk for overweight and higher body fat in childhood in two previous epidemiological studies", Eleni Papadopoulou, of the division of infection control and environmental health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, Norway, and colleagues wrote.

Sources of caffeine included coffee, black tea, caffeinated soft/energy drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk, sandwich spreads; and desserts, cakes, and candies.

Carried out by a team of Norwegian, Swedish and French researchers, the large-scale study looked at 50,943 Norwegian mother and infant pairs and asked the mothers to complete a questionnaire about their food and drink intake at 22 weeks of pregnancy. Filter coffee has higher caffeine levels with the average mug containing 140mg of caffeine. Researchers assessed infant weight gain by calculating the difference in sex-adjusted World Health Organization weight-for-age z scores between birth and age 1 year, using reported weights, and determined childhood overweight, including obesity, at two time points at ages 3 and 5 years and once at age 8 years. Study author Jean Golding argues that there is a connection between caffeine intake during pregnancy and weight of children aged up to eight years.

The higher the intake, the greater was the likelihood that the mother was older than 30, had had more than one child, consumed more daily calories, and smoked during her pregnancy.

Children of very high caffeine consumers weighed up to three ounces more between three and 12 months, rising to a pound more at age eight. And women with a very high caffeine intake during their pregnancy were more likely to be poorly educated, and to have been obese before they got pregnant.

The researchers also noted that the effect of prenatal caffeine exposure on postnatal growth and overweight was not dependent on birth weight.

"While interesting and worthy of discussion with would-be and pregnant women, the exact level of safe caffeine consumption in pregnancy is not clear, although whether doctors should just advise total abstinence as in alcohol where the safe level is unclear, remains to be seen", he said. Too much caffeine can also cause a miscarriage.


The authors said that their work supports advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy.

Existing guidelines in Australia and New Zealand recommend limiting caffeine intake while pregnant, but the Norwegian researchers are telling mothers to go cold turkey.

"But we add to the growing body of evidence indicating that complete avoidance of caffeine during pregnancy might be advisable". Because both of these factors are associated with higher rates of obesity throughout adulthood, the study was able to point back to the caffeine intake in pregnancy as a contributing factor.

The researchers are confident in their results because of the large sample size, the consistency of the findings and a plausible biological explanation - foetal programming. A further 44 per cent had a moderate level of consumption - classed as between 50 and 199mg a day, seven per cent had high levels of consumption of between 200mg and 299mg a day and three per cent had very high levels of over 300mg.

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

"It's likely that caffeine is not good for you, especially in high doses", he said.

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