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Diet During Mother’s Pregnancy Linked to Children’s Body Weight

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Diet During Mother’s Pregnancy Linked to Children’s Body Weight

A woman’s diet during pregnancy is linked to her child’s body weight throughout childhood and adolescence, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers noted that it’s already well known that a pregnant woman’s nutrition can affect a range of health outcomes in her child, but that specific eating patterns during pregnancy haven’t been definitively tied to accelerated growth or obesity in children. The goal of this study, then, was to look at how eating patterns during pregnancy were linked to specific period of accelerated growth in children — a known risk factor for overweight and obesity. The study’s participants included 1,459 mother–child pairs, who were followed as part of a study called Project Viva. As part of the study, pregnant women completed food frequency questionnaires, and their children received at least three measurements of their body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account) during their childhood and adolescence.

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Using the data from pregnant women’s food frequency questionnaires, the researchers identified the extent to which all women fit three different dietary patterns — the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII, which looks at a person’s intake of foods that either increase or reduce inflammation), the Alternate Healthy Eating Index for Pregnancy (AHEI-P, focusing on foods that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases), and the Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS). For each dietary pattern, women were divided into four groups of equal size based on how closely their food intake during pregnancy matched the pattern. Membership in each of these dietary groups was then compared to children’s BMI, and BMI growth rate, during different periods in life — birth to 1 month old, 1 to 6 months old, 6 months to 3 years old, 3 to 10 years old, and greater than 10 years old.

The researchers found that compared with the lowest group for following the diet, women in the top group for the Dietary Inflammatory Index — indicating a more inflammatory diet — had children with a higher BMI growth rate between ages 3 and 10 years, as well as a higher BMI between ages 7 and 10 years. Women in the bottom group for the Mediterranean Diet Score, compared with the top group, had children with a higher BMI between ages 3 and 15 years. There was no relationship between a woman’s Alternate Healthy Eating Index for Pregnancy score during pregnancy and her child’s BMI or BMI growth rate.

These results, the researchers note, indicate that following a Mediterranean-style diet and an anti-inflammatory diet — which have many of the same components — during pregnancy may help ensure that a woman’s child maintains a healthy body weight. Further research on dietary components during pregnancy, they note, could give a more detailed picture of what foods women may want to consume or avoid to help ensure a lower risk of overweight or obesity in her child.

Want to learn more about women’s health and diabetes? Read “Top 10 Health Tips for Women Over 65,” “Diabetes and Chronic UTIs: Questions and Answers,” and “Pregnancy and Type 1 Diabetes.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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