Caffeine And Childhood Obesity: Is There A Link?

There are plenty of foods and beverages that need to be given up once a woman conceives. The health of your baby is of paramount importance and what you ingest can affect the growth and development of the fetus. While alcohol is the beverage that’s most commonly given up, recent studies have shown that beverages containing caffeine should also join this list. These drinks may increase the risk of childhood obesity.

The study

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, Norway found a potential correlation between consumption of caffeine during pregnancy and an increased risk for childhood obesity. The researchers examined how the exposure to
caffeine could potentially affect weight because both foetal growth and growth in infancy are important determinants for the development of obesity. In the study, the researchers looked at the caffeine intake of almost 51,000 mothers at 22 weeks of pregnancy. Sources of caffeine included coffee, black tea, caffeinated soft/energy drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk, sandwich spreads; and desserts, cakes, and sweets. You can read more about the study here.

Daily intake was then grouped into:

  • 0-49mg (low); 50-199mg (average);
  • 200-299mg (high); and
  • 300+mg (very high).

It’s important to note that the general recommendation for caffeine consumption while pregnant is that it should be less than 200 milligrams a day- which is equivalent to two cups of coffee, tea and eight plain chocolate bars (25mg each). Their children’s weight, height, and body length were then measured at 11 time points: when they were six weeks old; at ages three, six, eight and 12 months. And then at one and a half, two, three, five, seven and eight years of age.

The results

The study found an association between high caffeine intake during pregnancy and a heightened risk of childhood obesity.
The children exposed to very high levels of caffeine before birth weighed 67-83g more in infancy 110-136 g more as toddlers; 213-320g more as pre-schoolers; and 480g more at the age of eight than children who had been exposed to low levels.
In regards to the mothers, 46% were classified as low caffeine intake; 44% as average intake; 7% as high; and 3% as very high.
The study also highlighted that the women who consumed caffeine were more likely to be poorly-educated and possibly obese before conceiving.

The verdict

It’s important to remember that this study is observational so it can’t confirm causality. Furthermore, the study only focused on a racially and ethnically homogenous population. It also didn’t look at breastfeeding, which has been linked to affecting growth rates during infancy.

However, no research can look at the definitive effect of caffeine during pregnancy, since it wouldn’t be ethically plausible to test drugs or supplements on pregnant women, as it they could harm both the mother and baby. Regardless, the results highlight the potentially damaging long-term negative effects that high caffeine intake in pregnancy could have on the baby’s health.

For an understanding of what obesity means today, click on the following link.