By Sean Duffy/Courthouse News

(CN) – Children whose mothers consumed sugary drinks while pregnant could be nearly two-thirds more likely to develop asthma later in childhood, according to a new study.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society, suggest that children who consume excessive amounts of sugary drinks in early childhood may also be more likely to develop asthma.

“Previous studies have linked intake of high fructose corn syrup-sweetened beverages with asthma in school children, but there is little information about when during early development exposure to fructose might influence later health,” said lead author Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, a senior research associate at Harvard Medical School.

The results are based on questionnaire responses from more than 1,000 mothers participating in Project Viva, a longitudinal study designed to find ways to improve the health of mothers and their children.

After their first and second trimesters of pregnancy, the mothers reported on their food and beverage consumption, including sweetened drinks. Once their children reached early childhood, the mothers completed another questionnaire that detailed their kids’ intake of a variety of foods and beverages.

The researchers then grouped the mothers and children based on their sweetened beverage and fructose consumption.

They noted it was critical to examine fructose consumption because it is a key contributor to total sugar intake and could produce specific impacts on the children’s airways.

Asthma in mid-childhood was determined based on a doctor’s diagnosis of asthma or if the child took medication used to treat asthma or wheezing medication in the previous year.

The study found that, in mid-childhood, about 19 percent of the children had asthma.

Mothers in the group with the highest consumption of sweetened beverages and fructose were 63 and 61 percent more likely, respectively, than those in the lowest-consuming group to have mid-childhood-age children with asthma, after adjusting for pre-pregnancy age, race and ethnicity, body mass and other factors that may have impacted the results.

The difference between the highest- and lowest-consuming groups was roughly two servings per day of sweetened beverages – two versus zero – and about 25 grams per day of fructose, 46 grams versus 21 grams.

Children who consumed the most fructose during their early childhood had a 64 percent higher risk of developing asthma in mid-childhood when adjusted for maternal sweetened beverage intake. The difference between the highest- and lowest-consuming groups in these cases was about 29 grams per day of fructose, 44 grams to 15 grams.

Previous research has linked obesity and asthma and high fructose and sweetened beverage intake and elevated asthma risk, according to the authors, who note recent findings suggest that fructose consumption may also cause lung inflammation.

They caution their study was observational, and therefore cannot demonstrate cause and effect. Participants were mostly from affluent families, so the results may not be applicable to socioeconomically challenged families.

Regardless, Rifas-Shiman said “avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy and in early childhood could be one of several ways to reduce the risk of childhood asthma.”