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Physical exercise during pregnancy reduces neonatal adiposity

Large-scale EU study investigates gestational diabetes and possible preventive measures
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(Graz/Vienna, 14 March 2019) Physical activity by heavily overweight women during pregnancy reduces neonatal adiposity. This is one of the findings of an international EU study on the subject of gestational diabetes, in which MedUni Vienna is participating. Even small lifestyle changes can help to reduce baby fat.


In Austria, 30% of 6 to 9-year-old boys and 22% of girls of the same age are overweight or obese. This represents a huge challenge to society and to the healthcare system. The propensity to lay down excessive fat is inherited in the womb. Children of obese women are particularly at risk. A large-scale European research project (DALI) is investigating how such women can give their offspring a good start in life and whether the prevalence of gestational diabetes can be reduced. One of the results has now been published in specialist journal Diabetologia.

Sports scientist Mireille van Poppel from the University of Graz has good news for mothers-to-be: even small lifestyle changes can help to reduce baby fat. "Our investigation was able to show, for the first time, that a behavioural change during pregnancy reduces adiposity in new-born babies," sums up van Poppel. Those volunteers who ate more healthily and took more exercise really did produce leaner babies. The particularly pleasing message (because it is a simple one) to the women concerned: "Spending less time sitting down has a particularly beneficial effect," says the scientist.

As part of the EU-funded study, more than 300 pregnant women and their babies were observed in nine different countries. Three groups of mothers-to-be were given advice about diet, exercise or both. The test subjects adjusted their lifestyle but only the latter group managed to put on less weight. "Being less sedentary obviously intensified the effect," says van Poppel. This could be simple advice to give women as to how they can protect their children from being overweight. "This is much easier to take on board and carry out than complicated explanations about a vitamin-rich or low-sugar and low-fat diet or sufficient exercise," stresses the researcher.

"Babies who are born with a lot of baby fat often grow into overweight children and subsequently adults," adds Alexandra Kautzky-Willer from MedUni Vienna. "Then, in turn, girls run a higher risk of obesity and glucose intolerance during pregnancy, thereby perpetuating the vicious circle. Healthy nutrition, weight control, exercise and, above all, less time spent sitting down can reduce this risk and therefore really is the first step towards a healthy life."   

The DALI project
13 partners from 11 countries are involved in the EU DALI project, conducting the first in-depth investigation into gestational diabetes in a Europe-wide, large-scale study and developing effective preventive measures.
DALI is studying the actual prevalence of the disease by using uniform diagnostics and is testing possible preventive measures.

It is also studying the effectiveness of three different interventional strategies (diet, physical exercise, vitamin D) to prevent gestational diabetes. MedUni Vienna is involved as a project partner, under the leadership of Alexandra Kautzky-Willer (Department of Medicine III, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Gender Medicine Unit).

A reduction in sedentary behaviour in obese women during pregnancy reduces neonatal adiposity: the DALI randomized controlled trial

Project website: