SINGAPORE - How does a woman's pre-pregnancy lifestyle and diet affect her pregnancy and child? And how can her diet be changed to reduce her risk of ailments such as temporary diabetes during pregnancy?
These are questions two new studies will aim to answer.
Three institutes here plan to start a study in September that will recruit 900 women in Singapore who want to have children, and track their health - from before they become pregnant to when they deliver, and beyond.
The centres involved are the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), KK Women's and Children's Hospital and the National University Health System (NUHS).
The babies will also be studied until they turn two years old, for a start.
Professor Chong Yap Seng, the new acting executive director of SICS, said the research will continue after that, for as long as funding is secured.
In a separate study expected to start early next year, SICS and NUHS will partner a firm to see how women's diets can be changed to reduce their risk of gestational diabetes, a form of temporary diabetes that occurs during pregnancy.
This will be an ambitious three-country project involving Singapore, Britain and New Zealand, so that the results can be compared across Asians, Polynesians and Caucasians.
Prof Chong said the two projects will let researchers observe how women's bodies change naturally during pregnancy and what can be done to reduce their disease risks, focusing in particular on gestational diabetes.
Chinese and Indian pregnant women in Singapore are unusually prone to this type of diabetes, according to the findings of another ongoing study by the three institutes. The findings were announced in 2012.
"We expected a 5 per cent to 10 per cent rate based on other studies," said Prof Chong. "But the rates were 22 per cent for Indians, 21 per cent for the Chinese and 12 per cent for Malays."
The Gusto (Growing Up In Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes) study began in 2009 and included some 1,200 expectant women, as part of research into how metabolic diseases arise from early life.
Explaining how the upcoming projects differ from the Gusto study, Prof Chong said the Gusto mothers were recruited in their first trimester.
"We didn't know too much about them before they got pregnant, such as their pre-pregnancy weight and nutritional status.
"They self-reported, but self-reports are not extremely accurate," he said.
The high rate of gestational diabetes is worrying as other studies showed that up to two-thirds of the women will become diabetic within 15 years and one in five of their babies will have some kind of metabolic disease like diabetes, heart disease or obesity, he said.
Dr Wendy Teo, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said she sees women with gestational diabetes "quite frequently".
"They should go for health screenings every one to two years after giving birth," she said. "I would also strongly encourage them to exercise more, and have more fruit and vegetables, and less sugars and refined carbohydrates like rice and noodles."
Dr Tony Tan, an obstetrician and gynaecologist with the Raffles Medical Group, added that more public education is needed to raise awareness of the women's risks.
"Pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension are other common illnesses mothers should look out for," he said.
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