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Can Anti-obesity Drugs Prevent Overweight Babies?

May 11, 2011

Weight-loss groups are describing as “disturbing” a plan to give unborn babies a diet drug to stop them from being born overweight, The Telegraph is reporting.

Patients at Liverpool Women’s Hospital will be given the drug Metformin to reduce the food supply to their unborn babies. The treatment will not affect the weight of the mothers.

Half of the patients in the study will take Metformin pills up to three times a day from 12 weeks gestation, while the other half will be given placebo drugs. Doctors hope to see it prevent the birth of oversized babies and reduce the need for caesarean sections.

Instances of pre-eclampsia, the potentially fatal complication in pregnancy common to overweight mothers, are hoped to also be reduced.

The trial will run as a joint study between hospitals in Liverpool, Coventry and Edinburgh and will monitor over 400 women in total. Last year, 150 babies born at the Liverpool hospital weighed more than 10 pounds, BBC News is reporting.

Dr. Andrew Weeks, who is leading the study, told teh Telegraph: “The difficulty comes when you have been living in a particular way for years that is not healthy. To suddenly change to a different lifestyle is not easy to do. Lifestyle change takes time and we would always encourage this as well but the use of Metformin gives us another option when the other is not realistic.”

Alison Wetton, CEO of a leading weight-loss center, All About Weight, explained to the Telegraph: “Women rightfully feel uneasy – no mother-to-be likes to take medication. The fact that the widely-used diabetes pill, Metformin, is being trialed to prevent obese babies being born to overweight mothers is disturbing to me, and I am sure most other women as well.”

Will Williams, scientific advisor for All About Weight, added that, although there were “reasonable grounds” for the trial, it was “a shame that it is needed at all. We know Metformin is safe in pregnancy and has no negative effects on the child up to 2 years, but there is a lack of studies on older children.”

“Women wanting to conceive could instead lose weight by following a healthy weight loss plan, including diet and exercise. This would achieve all the things that the Metformin trial is hoping to do, without the risks or costs of adding a drug with uncertain long term effects.”

“This would be far preferable to popping a pill that may help pregnancy outcomes. It is unlikely to break the cycle of an unhealthy lifestyle leading to overweight children and the continuing rise of obesity and diabetes in the general population.”

However, Jane Norman, Professor of Maternal and Fetal Health at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the University of Edinburgh, said, “Research has shown that babies born to obese mothers are at increased risk of complications in later life. Obese pregnant women have high levels of glucose and Metformin is proven to reduce glucose.”

“We have to be careful with the use of drugs in pregnancy but we already know that it is safe to give expectant mothers. It is likely that Metformin will prevent babies from getting too big and, putting all these factors together, I am confident that the benefits will outweigh the risks.”

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