Higher maternal adiposity reduces offspring birth weight if associated with a metabolically favourable profile

Publication authors

WD Thompson, RN Beaumont, A Kuang, NM Warrington, Y Ji, J Tyrrell, AR Wood, D Scholtens, BA Knight, DM Evans, WL Lowe, G Santorelli, R Azad, D Mason, AT Hattersley, TM Frayling, H Yaghootkar, MC Borges, DA Lawlor, RM Freathy


Aims/Hypothesis Higher maternal BMI during pregnancy results in higher offspring birth weight, but it is not known whether this is solely the result of adverse metabolic consequences of higher maternal adiposity, such as maternal insulin resistance and fetal exposure to higher glucose levels, or whether there is any effect of raised adiposity through non-metabolic (e.g. mechanical) factors. We aimed to use genetic variants known to predispose to higher adiposity coupled with a favourable metabolic profile, in a Mendelian Randomisation (MR) study comparing the effect of maternal “metabolically favourable adiposity” on offspring birth weight with the effect of maternal general adiposity (as indexed by BMI).

Methods To test the causal effects of maternal metabolically favourable adiposity or general adiposity on offspring birth weight, we performed two sample MR. We used variants identified in large genetic association studies as associated with either higher adiposity and a favourable metabolic profile, or higher BMI (N = 442,278 and N = 322,154 for metabolically favourable adiposity and BMI, respectively). We then used data from the same variants in a large genetic study of maternal genotype and offspring birth weight independent of fetal genetic effects (N = 406,063 with maternal and/or fetal genotype effect estimates). We used several sensitivity analyses to test the reliability of the results. As secondary analyses, we used data from four cohorts (total N = 9,323 mother-child pairs) to test the effects of maternal metabolically favourable adiposity or BMI on maternal gestational glucose, anthropometric components of birth weight and cord-blood biomarkers.

Results Higher maternal adiposity with a favourable metabolic profile was associated with lower offspring birth weight (−94 (95% CI: −150 to −38) grams per 1 SD (6.5%) higher maternal metabolically favourable adiposity). By contrast, higher maternal BMI was associated with higher offspring birth weight (35 (95% CI: 16 to 53) grams per 1 SD (4 kg/m2) higher maternal BMI). Sensitivity analyses were broadly consistent with the main results. There was evidence of outlier SNPs for both exposures and their removal slightly strengthened the metabolically favourable adiposity estimate and made no difference to the BMI estimate. Our secondary analyses found evidence to suggest that maternal metabolically favourable adiposity decreases pregnancy fasting glucose levels whilst maternal BMI increases them.

The effects on neonatal anthropometric traits were consistent with the overall effect on birth weight, but the smaller sample sizes for these analyses meant the effects were imprecisely estimated. We also found evidence to suggest that maternal metabolically favourable adiposity decreases cord-blood leptin whilst maternal BMI increases it.

Conclusions/Interpretation Our results show that higher adiposity in mothers does not necessarily lead to higher offspring birth weight. Higher maternal adiposity can lead to lower offspring birth weight if accompanied by a favourable metabolic profile.