A common type 2 diabetes drug used in pregnancy may cause childhood obesity

An image of a child's feet on the scales to illustrate childhood obesity
© iStock/Maya23K

Metformin is a common type 2 diabetes drug which is often used in pregnancies where the mother suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome. It may cause childhood obesity.

A new study from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology shown that although metformin results in fewer miscarriages and premature births, it may lead to childhood obesity.

PhD candidate Liv Guro Engen Hanem at NTNU’s Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine, commented: “We can’t rule out that these children may have more health problems as adults.”

The use of metformin for PCOS and gestational diabetes

Millions of pregnant women use metformin. This is partly due to polycystic ovary syndrome, but most often to treat gestational diabetes. There have previously been few negative side effects demonstrated from its use, and no negative side effects for the foetus. However, there is little known about possible long-term effects.

The results of this study showed that eight year old children exposed to metformin in utero had a higher body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference on average compared to the children of women in the control group who were given an inactive placebo.

Childhood obesity

These negative effect of these outcomes include:

  • Higher BMI can lead to negative effects for children later in life which are connected to obesity; and
  • A larger waist circumference is associated with an unfavourable distribution of body fat.

According to Research Gemini, the article notes that “in part that the benefits of metformin use in pregnancy must be weighed against these possible long-term health problems in the offspring.”

The research method

The research group assessed 257 pregnant women (274 pregnancies) with PCOS from 2005 to 2009. The women received metformin or a placebo during pregnancy.

Then the researchers did a follow-up measurements of the height, weight, BMI and abdominal circumference on 141 of the children when they were 5 to 10 years old.

Children who were exposed to metformin were compared with those whose mothers received placebos. The researchers compared the placebo-exposed children of mothers with PCOS to children from a Norwegian reference population.

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