Babies born from mothers who consumed diet soda during pregnancy are at higher risk to develop childhood obesity, a new study has found.

The study findings echo what a past research conducted by Yale School of Medicine, which found that the mother's diet during pregnancy affects the risk of the newborn for childhood obesity. Similarly, another study revealed that childhood obesity can be predicted in infants as early as 6 months old. Infants with a BMI reaching the 85th percentile rank were found to develop obesity by age 6.

Pregnant women who consume artificially sweetened liquids daily predispose their children to develop increased body mass index during childhood, according to researchers from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.

Lead study author Meghan Azad examined the correlation between consuming artificially sweetened beverage during pregnancy and its relative effects on the BMI of children at 1 year old. Out of the 3,033 pregnant women included in the study, they found that 29.5 percent consumed artificially sweetened beverages and 5.1 percent of children were overweight by age 1.

"To our knowledge, our results provide the first human evidence that artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy may increase the risk of early childhood overweight," the authors concluded.

The Calorie Control Council asserts the safety of artificial sweeteners and its potential benefits to pregnant women. Council president Robert Rankin suggested that regulatory bodies must come up with a safety recommendation of low-calorie sweeteners for special groups, such as pregnant and nursing women.

Rankin said that using low-calorie sweeteners during pregnancy, in fact, helps mothers to avoid excess weight that can pose some harm to the baby, as well.

While the findings do not support causality, the authors recommend further research to validate the results. Specifically, more cohort studies that would focus on the specific sweeteners that increase BMI, biological mechanisms involved and long-term outcomes must be carried out.

Mark Periera of the Harvard Medical School said that even if there are limited studies to support Azad's finding, it would be best to recommend pregnant women to stop consuming artificially sweetened beverages, and instead consume more water for proper hydration.

At present, there exists an alarming epidemic of childhood obesity. In the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2014 revealed that 33 percent of children aged 2 to 19 years old are overweight and about 25 percent are obese.

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics on May 9.

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