Babies delivered by caesarean section are more likely to be obese, according to new research by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
The study, which has been published in JAMA Pediatrics, finds that those born by C-section are 15 per cent more likely to be obese in childhood, a risk that persists in adulthood. Within siblings, babies born by caesarean are 64 per cent more likely to be obese than those born by vaginal birth.
The study’s senior author, Jorge Chavarro, said: ‘Caesarean deliveries are without a doubt a necessary and lifesaving procedure in many cases.
‘But caesareans also have some known risks to the mother and the newborn. Our findings show that risk of obesity in the offspring could be another factor to consider.
‘I think that our findings — particularly those that show a dramatic difference in obesity risk between those born via caesarean and their siblings born through vaginal delivery — provide very compelling evidence that the association between caesarean birth and childhood obesity is real.
‘That’s because, in the case of siblings, many of the factors that could potentially be playing a role in obesity risk, including genetics, would be largely the same for each sibling — except for the type of delivery.’
The number of women in England giving birth by caesarean section has risen over the last decade to the level where over a quarter of all deliveries now occur in this manner.
Reasons for this include obesity and increasing maternal age but the procedure has well known risks to both mother and newborn and should never be undertaken without serious consideration as to whether it is appropriate.
This prospective cohort study over a 12-year period and involving over 22,000 children has thrown up the possibility of another factor to consider – a higher risk of obesity in the offspring.
After accounting for major confounding factors – something which has hampered previous studies in this area – caesarean births do appear to be associated with statistically significantly higher levels of obesity than in children born naturally (64 per cent more likely to be obese). This should mean that this possible risk be included as a matter of routine in discussions with mothers considering this type of delivery.
Research score: 4/5