Pregnancy Diet Linked to Risk of Obesity in Child

Pavankumar Kamat

January 12, 2022

A new study suggests that a healthy diet initiated by women before conception could lower the risk of obesity in the offspring.

Childhood obesity is a major public health concern in the UK, with nearly a quarter of children under 5 and more than a third of children starting secondary school being overweight or obese. Furthermore, childhood obesity is likely to persist in adulthood and have long-term health consequences.

Researchers at the University of Southampton analysed dietary data of 2963 mother-child dyads identified from the UK Southampton Women’s Survey. Using the dietary data, each mother-child dyad was assigned combined diet quality score, based on which they were categorised into 5 groups: poor, poor-medium, medium, medium-better and best. Childhood adiposity was evaluated using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and body mass index (BMI) z-scores.

The findings, published in the  International Journal of Obesity , showed that mother-offspring diet quality trajectories were stable from pre-conception in mothers to age 8 to 9 years in the offspring. A poorer diet quality trajectory was linked to higher pre-pregnancy maternal BMI, lower maternal age at birth, lower educational levels, smoking, and multiparity. 

After adjusting for confounders, a 1-category reduction in the dietary trajectory was associated with higher DXA percentage body fat (0.08 standard deviation [SD]; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.15) and BMI z-score (0.08 SD; 95% CI 0.00 to 0.16) in the offspring aged 8 to 9 years.

Early Intervention Warranted

Lead author Dr Crozier, University of Southampton, said: "This research shows the importance of intervening at the earliest possible stage in a child’s life, in pregnancy or even before conception, to enable us to tackle it." The authors believe the pre-conception period serves as a crucial window to introduce favourable changes in the maternal dietary quality.

The research was funded by grants from the Medical Research Council, project EarlyNutrition, and the European Union’s Seventh Framework and Horizon 2020 programmes. The study also received support from National Institute for Health Research Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. The authors report no competing interests.

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