Long-term consequences of obesity on female fertility and the health of the offspring

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Purpose of review

Obesity has reached near epidemic levels among reproductive age women with a myriad of consequences. Obesity adversely affects the maternal milieu by creating conditions that decrease fertility and increase the risk of gestational diabetes, hypertensive disease in pregnancy, fetal growth abnormalities and congenital anomalies. The effects of obesity are not limited to pregnancy. Indeed, beyond the immediate postpartum period, obese women maintain a higher prevalence of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. In this article, we will review the pathophysiology underlying the effects of obesity on fertility, pregnancy outcome and health status of offspring. The purpose of this review is to outline proposed models responsible for the short-term and long-term consequences of obesity on fertility and offspring development, and identify knowledge gaps where additional research is needed.

Recent findings

Maternal over or under nutrition adversely affect maternal reproductive capacity and pregnancy success. Separate from effects on maternal reproductive function, maternal over or under nutrition may also ‘program’ fetal pathophysiology through inheritance mechanisms that suggest epigenetic modification of DNA, differential RNA translation and protein expression, or modification of the fetal hypothalamic–pituitary axis function through programmed adverse effects on the developing hypothalamic circuitry. The concept of maternal health modifying the risk of developing noncommunicable diseases in the offspring is based on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis.


Of importance, the long-term effects of obesity are not limited to maternal health, but also programs pathophysiology in their offspring. Children of obese gravida are at increased risk for the development of cardiometabolic disease in childhood and throughout adulthood. Future studies directly interrogating mechanisms underlying the risks associated with obesity will allow us to develop interventions and therapies to decrease short-term and long-term morbidities associated with maternal obesity.

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