By Daniel Machin
Children born to obese mothers are more likely to die before they reach the age of 55, while they also have an increased chance of being admitted to hospital for heart attacks, angina and stroke.
New findings suggest that a woman's uterus has a crucial and long lasting effect on risk of premature mortality in offspring.
Researchers analysed data for 37,709 babies delivered between 1950 and 1976 in Scotland who are now aged 34 to 61. Their mother's weight was recorded during her first antenatal appointment in pregnancy, with obesity classed as a body mass index of 30 or over.
Offspring were found to be 35 per cent more likely to have suffered an early death from any cause by the age of 55 if their mother had been obese in pregnancy.
In addition, they also had a 29 per cent increased chance of being admitted to hospital for heart attacks, angina and stroke than those born to mothers of a normal weight.
"Maternal obesity is associated with an increased risk of premature death in adult offspring," concluded the experts from the universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
"As one in five women in the United Kingdom is obese at antenatal booking, strategies to optimise weight before pregnancy are urgently required."
Some 21 per cent of the 28,540 mothers were classed as overweight at their first antenatal appointment, while 4 per cent were obese.
Among the 37,709 children, meanwhile, there were 6,551 deaths from any cause. The leading cause of death was heart disease, accounting for 24 per cent of deaths in men and 13 per cent in women.
The experts have described the findings as a "major public health concern" - especially given the fact that only 4 per cent of mothers in the study were obese, far less than current levels in countries such as the UK and US.
"This study highlights the importance of weight management in mothers and their offspring," commented Dr Sohinee Bhattacharya, of the University of Aberdeen.
"We need to find out how to help young women and their children control their weight better so that chronic disease risk is not transmitted from generation to generation."
One explanation for the findings is that being overweight in pregnancy may cause permanent changes in appetite control and energy metabolism in the unborn child, leading to a greater risk of heart problems later in life.
With obesity among pregnant women on the rise, the experts want to see more research carried out to better understand and prevent the impact of obesity during pregnancy and the biological processes at work.