Maternal Obesity Ups Infant Orofacial Cleft Risk

Babies of obese mothers have an increased risk for orofacial clefts, according to a new study published in the latest issue of The Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal.

Causes of orofacial clefts, which include cleft lip and/or cleft palate, have been traced to both genetics and environmental factors. Maternal obesity joins previously determined nongenetic variables such as maternal smoking, use of certain drugs, folic acid deficiency, and maternal diabetes, as a specific risk factor.

In the study, the information of 988,171 infants born in the 10-year period ending in 2001 was taken from the Swedish Medical Birth Registry. Of the total, 1,686 infants had orofacial clefts. The mothers were divided into four groups determined by their body mass index (BMI): underweight, average, overweight, and obese. The obese mothers showed an overall increased risk for having an infant with a cleft. This increased risk was higher when the cleft was associated with other major malformations than when it was isolated.

When Drs. Marie Cedergren and Bengt Kallen began their study to determine if there was a positive correlation between maternal obesity and offspring with an orofacial cleft, they noted that obesity also had been associated with the development of neural tube defects and congenital heart malformations. Even a weak association is important to detect because of the ongoing obesity epidemic worldwide, the authors said. In Sweden, the number of overweight women in their fertile years doubled from 1980 to 1997.

The authors conclude their report by suggesting that developing a better understanding of the negative effects of prepregnancy obesity could change behavior concerning nutrition and physical exercise among fertile women.

From The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal



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