The Impact of Pre-Pregnancy BMI and Newborn’s Lifespan

Research shows that a baby’s lifespan is significantly influenced by the mother’s BMI, even before she gets pregnant. Looking further into the science behind BMI and lifespan, one element in our DNA, called telomeres, says it all.

What Are Telomeres?

Telomeres are caps found at the ends of DNA strands. The function of telomeres is to prevent DNA from getting damaged. They’re also related to the cellular aging process. Every time a cell reproduces, telomeres become shorter. The shorter they become, the less they are able to function properly, and the DNA damage can happen as a result. Although aging is the primary reason why telomeres get shorter, this can also be due to things like stress, tobacco use, and a sedentary lifestyle. The shorter your telomeres, the fewer remaining years you have to live, so avoiding these things can help you live longer.

Too-High BMI Shortens Baby’s Life

Something unexpected that can influence your telomere length is your mother’s BMI before she got pregnant with you. Researchers in Belgium measured telomere lengths from over 700 samples of umbilical cord blood and over 700 samples of placental tissue from recent births, and compared these measurements to the body mass index of the mother. They found that each one-point increase in the mother’s body mass index decreased the baby’s telomeres by the equivalent of about 1.1 to 1.6 years of life. This is a drastic difference, especially when you put it into perspective: The child of a slim mother with a body mass index of 19 will live around 18 to 27 whole years longer than the child of an obese mother with a body mass index of 35, according to telomere lengths.

Managing Your Weight

If you’re overweight, this study may be good motivation to shed some of the fat before conceiving a child. Doing so will also provide many benefits for your own health. You don’t need to lose weight fast, and you don’t need to lose a lot of it. Losing only half a pound to two pounds per week gives you the best chances of keeping the weight off, and losing just 5 to 10% of your body weight is enough to produce noticeable health effects including better blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar measurements.

Meeting the official recommendation for 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week can support weight loss. However, you can’t outrun your fork, as the dieting mantra goes. It’s possible to eat far more calories than you even realize, negating the weight loss benefits of the exercise you’ve done. The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to track your calorie intake. There are even convenient apps for mobile phones to help you count calories. These apps will ask for your height, current weight, and how quickly you want to lose weight, and churn out a calorie goal for you.

Consuming fewer calories than you burn becomes much easier if you can create lifelong changes in your eating habits. For many people, one of the biggest ways to make a change is to cut out sugared drinks and replace them with zero-calorie sparkling water or unsweetened tea. At meals, you can get the best nutrition and calorie balance by filling up half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.

Although since the 1980s, the mainstream dieting advice has been to eat a low-fat diet, more and more people are realizing that this is inaccurate. Most low-fat versions of foods (such as low-fat yogurt, etc.) replace the flavor that was lost with the fat content with flavor from sugar and carbohydrates. Thus, choosing the low-fat version of a food may not only make little to no difference to your calorie intake, but the sugar can cause a blood sugar crash and create cravings for more sugar.

Don’t be afraid of healthy fats. They keep you full and don’t have the potential to affect your blood sugar like carbohydrates do. Instead, avoid refined grains, potatoes, and sweets. Whole grains are better than refined grains.

Losing weight will provide you with countless health and lifestyle benefits. Remember that it’s a journey that requires perseverance. Find support in any of the countless weight loss communities online and celebrate the small victories. You’ll probably find that the health of your future baby will make it worth it.

(Originally published on is a place for ideas, insights, tips and research — the perfect resource for expectant parents.