Do Sugary Sodas During Pregnancy Lead to Childhood Asthma?

Health Writer
Medically Reviewed

It’s by no means a stretch to recognize that behaviors during pregnancy can profoundly affect the health of a developing baby. We know that lifestyle choices even prior to pregnancy may have an impact. So it should come as no surprise that food choices — both what we choose to eat and not eat — might have a direct impact on specific areas of the baby’s future health. Drinking sugary beverages during pregnancy may link to asthma developing during elementary-school years.

The 2017 study, published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society, looked at the connection between drinking soda and other sweetened drinks and childhood asthma. The researchers looked at data that examined the eating habits of mother-child pairs, information on the children’s health, and history of asthma during ages 7 to 9.

Researchers isolated maternal obesity and other factors that have already been linked to risk of asthma in offspring. "Consumption of sugary drinks (which can drive obesity)," and fructose-driven beverages seemed to, "on (their) own," drive risk of asthma in offspring, as an independent risk factor.

Specific findings in the study concluded:

  • Mothers who consumed the highest levels of fructose-containing drinks during their pregnancy were 58 percent more likely to have a child with asthma compared to women who drank small or no amounts of fructose-sweetened beverages during the pregnancy.
  • In addition to influencing risk of asthma in offspring through the maternal-obesity mechanism, the sweetened-drink consumption was an independent risk factor.
  • What the kids drank in their early years of life also had consequences. Kids who consumed the most total fructose in their early years were 79 percent more likely to develop asthma compared to kids who had rare or no fructose-beverage exposure in early life. This finding was separate from maternal consumption of sweetened drinks.

The women who consumed more soda and sugary drinks tended to be heavier, have lower incomes and less education compared to the women who generally avoided these drinks. The researchers did account for these factors and suggest clear evidence that "high consumption of sugary drinks" was an isolated risk factor for the development of asthma in offspring.

The researchers have hypothesized that the mechanism behind prenatal consumption of sugary drinks and separately, a child's consumption early-in-life of sugary drinks and asthma, is likely the inflammation caused by this habit. The general inflammation may impact the developing lungs in utero and also as the young child grows. They do not have clear evidence to support that supposition.

I asked my husband, Dr. Eli Hendel, M.D., a pulmonologist and sleep medicine expert, what he thought about the study and its findings. He offered:

“To associate asthma with consequences from one’s diet one must find a link with the root of asthma. It is likely not related to weight or even metabolic effect, but rather excess inflammation in the airways. This observation in turn, gets more complicated, since there are many mediators involved in this inflammation process (asthma), and we now recognize that there are different subgroups based on these inflamed cells. This creates an opportunity to link excess sugar consumption with this resulting inflammation in certain sub groups. It will take more than just a retrospective study (which this was) to validate a verified association. Certainly this study strongly supports the benefits that attention to diet can provide for pregnant women — for themselves and certainly, in this case, their offspring.”

There’s no question that the stakes are high when it comes to a developing baby’s heath and health future. Sensible, healthy eating practices and meeting current weight gain standards during pregnancy based on your weight when you become pregnant are clearly vital to supporting the healthy development of your baby. Your diet should include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, adequate levels of protein and calcium-rich dairy products, healthy oils including omega-3 fats, and adequate levels of folic acid. Drinks filled with refined sugars should be limited or avoided by pregnant moms and have no value for growing kids, especially given the current childhood obesity epidemic in the United States.

See more helpful articles:

Children at Risk From Unhealthy Diet During Pregnancy

Pregnancy and Asthma - The Effects on the Baby

What is Childhood Onset Asthma?