Thorax doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2012-202556
  • Paediatrics
  • Original article

The relationship between maternal adiposity and infant weight gain, and childhood wheeze and atopy

  1. the Southampton Women's Survey Study Group5
  1. 1Clinical and Experimental Sciences Academic Unit, University of Southampton Faculty of Medicine, Southampton, UK
  2. 2NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  3. 3Human Development and Health Academic Unit, University of Southampton Faculty of Medicine, Southampton, UK
  4. 4Southampton Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  5. 5NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Prof Graham Roberts, Clinical and Experimental Sciences Academic Unit, Mailpoint 803, University of Southampton Faculty of Medicine, Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK; g.c.roberts{at}
  • Received 10 August 2012
  • Revised 10 August 2012
  • Accepted 25 November 2012
  • Published Online First 3 January 2013


Background Obesity and asthma have increased in westernised countries. Maternal obesity may increase childhood asthma risk. If this relation is causal, it may be mediated through factors associated with maternal adiposity, such as fetal development, pregnancy complications or infant adiposity. We investigated the relationships of maternal body mass index (BMI) and fat mass with childhood wheeze, and examined the influences of infant weight gain and childhood obesity.

Methods Maternal prepregnancy BMI and estimated fat mass (from skinfold thicknesses) were related to asthma, wheeze and atopy in 940 children. Transient or persistent/late wheeze was classified using questionnaire data collected at ages 6, 12, 24 and 36 months and 6 years. At 6 years, skin-prick testing was conducted and exhaled nitric oxide and spirometry measured. Infant adiposity gain was calculated from skinfold thickness at birth and 6 months.

Results Greater maternal BMI and fat mass were associated with increased childhood wheeze (relative risk (RR) 1.08 per 5 kg/m2, p=0.006; RR 1.09 per 10 kg, p=0.003); these reflected associations with transient wheeze (RR 1.11, p=0.003; RR 1.13, p=0.002, respectively), but not with persistent wheeze or asthma. Infant adiposity gain was associated with persistent wheeze, but not significantly. Adjusting for infant adiposity gain or BMI at 3 or 6 years did not reduce the association between maternal adiposity and transient wheeze. Maternal adiposity was not associated with offspring atopy, exhaled nitric oxide, or spirometry.

Discussion Greater maternal adiposity is associated with transient wheeze but not asthma or atopy, suggesting effects upon airway structure/function but not allergic predisposition.

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