Health fear over rise in oversized newborns

Babies who are born bigger have a higher risk themselves of being obese, developing diabetes and cardiovascular problems — three major and prevalent health concerns in the UAE.

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ABU DHABI // The obesity epidemic is spreading to newborns, with doctors reporting a disturbing trend in oversized babies.

Average birth weights are about 3.4 kilograms, but doctors across the country are delivering newborns who are bigger than 5kg.

Dr Rosalie Sant, a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist, said she had delivered a baby weighing 5.2kg.

“The trend is getting progressively worse,” said Dr Sant, of Primavera Medical Centre in Dubai Healthcare City.

“You are predisposing your baby to childhood obesity – this has been scientifically proven – and to early onset of diabetes. That is very worrying.”

Doctors say bigger newborns also have higher risk of cardiovascular problems.

“There is so much evidence that we are programming the baby’s future metabolism to what it will then consider to be normal,” Dr Sant said.

“If you are going to eat junk and if you are going to have a higher sugar level and you are going to be unhealthy, then the baby’s metabolism is going to think that is right.”

Dr Fady Hachem, consultant of obstetrics and gynaecology at Burjeel Hospital, has also seen babies with a birth weight of 5.2kg.

Dr Hachem said excessive weight gain during pregnancy, or obesity before conception, were two major risk factors for gestational diabetes, which can lead to a large baby.

“Large amounts of glucose being passed on to the foetus put him or her in a hyper-insulin state,” he said. “This acts like a growth factor, putting the foetus in greater weight, hence a bigger baby.

“As we are aware, bigger babies are more likely to develop diabetes and obesity once they become adults.”

Another consequence of bigger babies is shoulder dystocia, where a newborn’s shoulders are too big to fit through the mother’s pelvic bone during delivery, leading to the risk of broken or fractured shoulder bones.

Dr Gulerana Shoaib, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Canadian Specialist Hospital, has also recently seen babies with a birth weight of 5kg.

“Both sugar and insulin causes this increase in weight in babies,” Dr Shoaib said. “Primarily it is due to fat deposition. Obese mothers mostly have insulin resistance, and if they have diabetes or higher sugar levels then pregnancy aggravates this condition.

“Sugar from the mother is passed on to the baby and the baby secretes more insulin to control this sugar.”

This can cause many complications, said Dr Shoaib.

“Bigger babies secrete more amniotic fluid, which causes abnormal presentation,” she said. “Also normal delivery is difficult and C-section could be required to deliver the baby.

“After the delivery, as the mother’s sugar supply is withdrawn from the baby, chances of the baby having hypoglycaemia [decreased sugar level] and jaundice is high, and the baby might have to be admitted to the neonatal unit.”

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, showed 60 per cent of women in the UAE are overweight or obese.

Dr Georgeta Stoica Liscan, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Abu Dhabi’s Brightpoint hospital, said studies had shown a link between maternal obesity in the first trimester and the obesity of children.

“Researchers have determined that children born to mothers who had excessive weight gain during pregnancy were more likely to be obese,” Dr Liscan said.

“Furthermore, children born to women who were overweight or obese before pregnancy are three times more likely to be obese.”

Dr Sant said women should get down to a healthy weight before trying for a baby, but there were steps that those who were overweight and already pregnant could take.

“Exercise, because exercise has shown will lead to a baby that is slightly smaller but still perfectly healthy,” she said.

“It just allows the baby to put on muscle and not put on fat.”