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Caffeine in pregnancy linked to risk of child overweight

At intakes above 300mg/day the association with overweight persists even at eight years old

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Any caffeine consumption during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of excess infant growth and of childhood overweight, and at very high intakes the association with overweight persists even at eight years old, research from Norway has shown. The authors of the large, observational study*, published in BMJ Open, said their study adds supporting evidence for the current advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy.

The research team analysed data for a total of 50,943 mothers recruited to the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study from 2002 to 2008 and their children, born after singleton pregnancies. Mothers had provided information about average caffeine intake – from sources including coffee, black tea, caffeinated soft/energy drinks, chocolate, chocolate milk, sandwich spreads, desserts, cakes, and sweets – at 22 weeks’ gestation. Daily caffeine intake was classified as low (0-49mg); average (50-199mg); high (200-299mg); or very high (>300mg). The children were then followed up, and their weight, height, and body length measured at six weeks old; at three, six, eight, and 12 months; and then at 1.5, two, three, five, seven, and eight years of age.

The study authors reported that compared with children of pregnant women with low caffeine intake, those born to women with average, high or very intake had an increased risk of experiencing excess growth in infancy, after adjustment for confounders (odds ratios OR 1.15, 1.30, and OR 1.66, respectively). They noted that in utero exposure to any caffeine was associated with higher risk of overweight at age three years and five years; furthermore the association persisted at eight years, but only for very high exposures.

They added that any caffeine intake was associated with increased body mass index from infancy to childhood, and children prenatally exposed to caffeine intake >200mg/day had consistently higher weight. Very high caffeine exposure was associated with higher weight gain velocity from infancy to the age of eight years.

The researchers pointed out that as their study was observational the results cannot confirm causality, and another possible weakness is that caffeine exposure was only noted at one point in time. But, they said, in its favour the study was large, the findings consistent – and foetal programming is a plausible biological explanation for them.

They concluded: “Any caffeine consumption during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of excess infant growth and of childhood overweight, mainly at preschool ages. Maternal caffeine intake may modify the overall weight growth trajectory of the child from birth to eight years. This study adds supporting evidence for the current advice to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy.”


*Papadopoulou E, Botton J, Brantsæter A-L, et al. Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and childhood growth and overweight: results from a large Norwegian prospective observational cohort study. BMJ Open 2018; 8:e018895. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-018895

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