Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 June 2014
Rates of obesity are increasing in women of child bearing age with negative impacts on maternal and offspring health. Emerging evidence suggests in utero origins of respiratory health in offspring of obese mothers but mechanisms are unknown. Changes in maternal cortisol levels are one potential factor as cortisol levels are altered in obesity and cortisol is separately implicated in development of offspring wheeze. We aimed to assess whether increased pre-pregnancy maternal body mass index (BMI) was associated with offspring early life wheezing, and whether this was mediated by altered cortisol levels in the mother. In a prospective community-based cohort (Amsterdam Born Children and their Development cohort), women completed questionnaires during pregnancy and at 3–5 months post-delivery regarding self-history of asthma and atopy, and of wheezing of their offspring (n=4860). Pre-pregnancy BMI was recorded and serum total cortisol levels were measured in a subset of women (n=2227) at their first antenatal visit. A total of 20.2% (n=984) women were overweight or obese and 10.3% reported wheezing in their offspring. Maternal BMI was associated with offspring wheezing (1 unit (kg/m2) increase, OR: 1.03; 95% CI: 1.00–1.05), after correction for confounders. Although maternal cortisol levels were lower in overweight mothers and those with a history of asthma, maternal cortisol levels did not mediate the increased offspring wheezing. Pre-pregnancy BMI impacts on baby wheezing, which is not mediated by lower cortisol levels. As the prevalence of obesity in women of child-bearing age is increasing, further studies are needed to investigate modifiable maternal factors to avoid risk of wheezing in young children.