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Investigating the association between maternal obesity and offspring fertility

Project Description

Mounting evidence suggests that exposure to maternal obesity in the womb programmes the offspring to poor health outcomes in later life. The development of the human reproductive system occurs entirely during fetal life, with a female baby’s maximal reproductive capacity already determined late in the second trimester of pregnancy. Dysregulation of normal development may, therefore, affect subsequent adult reproductive health and efficiency. Using routinely collected linked data analysis, a cross-sectional survey to investigate fertility, by assessing clinical fertility parameters in a subgroup of women and exploring fetal reproductive tissue development, this project aims to establish any association between in utero exposure to maternal obesity and the female offspring’s reproductive potential in adulthood.

The successful candidate will receive training in two broad scientific disciplines: epidemiology and developmental biology. This will provide a broad skill set to investigate and understand complex bio-medical concerns, such as the effects of maternal obesity on programming of offspring health and function.

Maternal weight and height at the first antenatal booking visit are recorded and stored in the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank ( This will form the basis of identification of the cohort and exposure status. Female children who are now over the age of 40 will be linked to Scottish SMR02 register to identify any pregnancy. Those who have no pregnancy records will be invited to take part in a cross-sectional survey and clinical assessment of fertility parameters. Any association between in utero exposure to maternal obesity and female offspring fertility and reproductive outcomes will be investigated using appropriate statistical analysis.

In order to identify whether potential programming mechanisms are induced during prenatal development in response to the adverse exposure to maternal obesity in the womb, this project will explore the structural and functional development of the human female fetal reproductive system (e.g. reference #6). This will be carried out using fetal tissue collected after the termination of normally-progressing pregnancies as part of the ongoing SAFeR study (see reference #7). The association between maternal overweight/obesity and fetal ovarian morphology, including numbers/types of germ cells, as well as changes in expression of key developmental ovarian genes and proteins will be investigated.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of APPLIED HEALTH SCIENCE. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Health Science, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.


Candidates should contact the lead supervisor to discuss the project in advance of submitting an application, as supervisors will be expected to provide a letter of support for suitable applicants. Candidates will be informed after the application deadline if they have been shortlisted for interview.

Funding Notes

This project is part of a competition funded by the Institute of Applied Health Sciences. Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £16,625 per annum).

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a First Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.


1. Reynolds RM, Allan KM, Raja EA, Bhattacharya S et al. (2013) Maternal obesity and offspring premature mortality: a follow-up of 1,323,275 person-years. BMJ 347:f4539.
2. Howie GJ, Sloboda DM, Kamal T, Vickers MH (2009) Maternal nutritional history predicts obesity in adult offspring independent of postnatal diet. Journal of Physiology 587(Pt4):905–915.
3. Menezo, Y.J. and Herubel, F. (2002) Mouse and Bovine Models for Human IVF. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 4(2): 170-175.
4. Macdonald V, Raja EA, Bhattacharya S (2019) Effects of Exposure to Maternal Obesity During Pregnancy on Daughters’ Reproductive Outcomes: An Intergenerational Linkage Study in Aberdeen, Scotland. MSc thesis in Human Nutrition, University of Aberdeen.
5. Bhattacharya S, Porter M, Raja EA, Templeton AA et al. (2009) The epidemiology of infertility in the North East of Scotland. Human Reproduction 24(12) 3096 – 3107.
6. Fowler PA, Childs AJ, Courant F, MacKenzie A et al. (2014) In utero exposure to cigarette smoke dysregulates human fetal ovarian developmental signalling. Human Reproduction 29(7):1471-89.
7. Filis P, Hombach-Klonisch S, Ayotte P, Nagrath N et al. Fowler PA (2018) Maternal smoking and high BMI disrupt thyroid gland development. BMC Medicine 16(1):194.

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