Impact of Maternal Obesity on Fetal Health



  • Maternal obesity links to offspring metabolic disorders
  • Male fetuses prioritize growth, risking liver complications
  • Female fetuses suppress androgen pathways, mitigating risks

Offspring born to obese women are at a higher risk of being overweight at birth and encountering metabolic complications later in life, such as liver disease and diabetes. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) suggests that the activation of pathways in the developing liver by male sex hormones contributes to this phenomenon.

Sex-Specific Responses to Androgens

The research indicates that male fetuses of obese mothers exhibit distinct signals in the liver triggered by male sex hormones, promoting excessive growth at the expense of health. Dr. Ashley Meakin from UniSA explains that while androgens play a vital role in male development, an overabundance during fetal development can lead to excessive growth, posing health risks at birth and affecting liver function in adulthood (1 Trusted Source
Maternal obesity impacts fetal liver androgen signalling in a sex-specific manner

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Conversely, female fetuses exposed to elevated testosterone levels from maternal obesity tend to suppress the androgen pathway in the liver, limiting their growth and reducing the likelihood of metabolic disorders in adulthood. Dr. Meakin highlights the sex-based disparities in metabolic disorders later in life resulting from maternal obesity, with males being more susceptible to conditions like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and diabetes if born above a certain weight threshold.

Recommendations for Optimal Pregnancy Nutrition

Professor Janna Morrison, the lead author of the study, emphasizes the importance of maintaining optimal nutrition during pregnancy for offspring health, underscoring the risks associated with both malnourishment and excessive weight gain during gestation. Achieving the right balance in pregnancy, she suggests, is crucial for mitigating long-term health risks for the child.

Prof. Morrison calls for societal changes in nutritional approaches to combat obesity and its related health issues across generations, advocating for early education on healthy eating habits that can carry through to pregnancy and adulthood. In the meantime, Dr. Meakin suggests that nutritional supplements addressing imbalances during pregnancy could optimize fetal development.

The liver androgen signaling study, recently published in Life Sciences, is part of a broader research effort led by Prof. Morrison and her team at UniSA, exploring the impact of maternal nutrition on various aspects of fetal development including the placenta, heart, lung, and liver.

“Addressing maternal obesity is pivotal for inter-generational health, starting with education and nutrition.”


  1. Maternal obesity impacts fetal liver androgen signalling in a sex-specific manner – (


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