Study: Low-Quality Diet During Pregnancy May Be Associated with Late-Childhood Obesity
Researchers from University College Dublin, Ireland found that children of mothers who ate a higher quality diet during pregnancy that is low in inflammation-associated foods had a lower risk of obesity and lower body fat levels in late childhood than children whose mothers ate a lower quality diet during pregnancy that was high in inflammation-associated foods.
Eating a low-quality diet during pregnancy that is high in foods and food components associated with chronic inflammation may be associated with an increased risk of obesity and excess body fat in children, especially during late childhood, according to findings published in the journal BMC Medicine.1
Researchers from University College Dublin, Ireland found that children of mothers who ate a higher quality diet during pregnancy that is low in inflammation-associated foods had a lower risk of obesity and lower body fat levels in late childhood than children whose mothers ate a lower quality diet during pregnancy that was high in inflammation-associated foods, according to the study authors. 1
"Obesity in childhood often carries on into adulthood and is associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes,” said co-author Ling Wei-Chen, in a press release. “Mounting evidence suggests that maternal diet influences pregnancy and birth outcomes and points to the first one thousand days of a child's life, from conception to two years old, as a critical period for preventing childhood obesity.” 1
Wei-Chen added that their research indicates that children born to mothers who eat a low-quality diet during pregnancy high in inflammation-associated foods may be more likely to have obesity or excess body fat in late childhood than those born to mothers who eat a high-quality diet low in inflammation-associated foods. 1
The study authors analyzed data collected from 16,295 mother-child pairs in 7 European birth cohort studies, from Ireland, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Poland. Maternal pre-, early-, late-, and whole-pregnancy dietary quality and inflammatory potential were assessed with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) score and the energy-adjusted Dietary Inflammatory Index (E-DII™) score, respectively.1,2
On average, mothers were 30 years of age and had a healthy BMI, and reported the food they ate before and during pregnancy. The research team assessed dietary quality and whether diets were high in foods and food components associated with chronic inflammation, such as saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and red and processed meat. Children’s BMI was calculated in early, mid and late childhood. Additional data on children’s body composition during mid or late childhood were collected in 5 of the cohorts in the study.1
The researchers found that children born to mothers who ate diets high in foods associated with inflammation throughout the pregnancy tended to have lower levels of fat-free body mass, indicating lower levels of muscle mass, in late-childhood than those whose mothers ate diets low in inflammation-associated with a higher risk of combined diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, according to the study authors.1
The association between a lower quality maternal diet that is high in inflammation-associated foods and lower levels of fat-free body mass in late-childhood was stronger in boys than girls. However, the association between a lower quality maternal diet high in inflammation-associated foods and higher body fat in mid-childhood was stronger in girls than in boys.1
"Previous research has suggested that lower maternal carbohydrate intake in early pregnancy can induce epigenetic changes—that is changes which alter gene expression—in children that may be associated with an increased risk of obesity,” said principal study investigator Catherine Phillips, in a press release. “We propose that a lower quality maternal diet, high in inflammation-associated foods, may similarly induce epigenetic changes and that this may increase the risk of children having obesity or excess body fat in later childhood. Our findings suggest that promoting an overall healthy diet, high in fruit and vegetables and low in refined carbohydrates and red and processed meats, throughout pregnancy may help prevent childhood obesity."1
The study authors caution that the observational nature of the research does not allow for conclusions about a causal relationship between maternal diet and childhood obesity and excess body fat. Future research should focus on more details for other factors that could influence the risk of obesity in childhood, such as childhood physical activity and diet, according to the study authors.1
- Low quality-maternal diet during pregnancy may be associated with late-childhood obesity. EurekAlert! https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-02/bc-lmd02172php. Published February 21, 202 Accessed February 25, 2021.
- Chen, LW., Aubert, A.M., Shivappa, N. et al. Maternal dietary quality, inflammatory potential and childhood adiposity: an individual participant data pooled analysis of seven European cohorts in the ALPHABET consortium. BMC Med 19, 33 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-021-01908-7.