Consuming a diet poor in nutritional value and heavy in foods and dietary components linked with chronic inflammation during pregnancy may be connected with an increased risk of juvenile obesity and excess body fat, particularly in adolescence. The results are published in the free journal BMC Medicine (Chen et al., 2021).
The study, which was carried out by scientists from University College Dublin in Ireland, found that children whose mothers ate a high-quality diet that was low in foods that cause inflammation while pregnant were less likely to be obese and had less body fat in late childhood than children whose mothers ate a low-quality diet that was high in foods that cause inflammation. This connection was not detected throughout infancy or adolescence.
Study’s corresponding, Ling-Wei Chen, stated, “Childhood obesity is frequently related to an increased risk of chronic illnesses, including type 2 diabetes. There is growing evidence that maternal nutrition affects pregnancy and birth outcomes and that child’s life, from conception to the first one thousand days, is crucial for avoiding childhood obesity.”
To examine the effects of diet on the probability of childhood obesity and excess body fat, the authors analyzed data collected from 16,295 mother-child pairs in seven European cohort studies from Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Poland.
On average, mothers had a healthy BMI (23.4 kg/m2) and were 30 years old. Mothers reported their diets prior to and during pregnancy. The researchers evaluated the dietary quality and the prevalence of foods and food components including saturated fat, refined carbs, and red and processed meat linked to chronic inflammation. The BMI of children was determined in early, middle, and late childhood. In five of the study’s cohorts, additional data on children’s body composition throughout middle or late childhood were acquired.
Children born to mothers whose diets during pregnancy were high in foods linked with inflammation tended to have lower levels of fat-free body mass, indicating lower levels of muscle mass, than those whose mothers had diets low in inflammation-related foods. Low muscle mass has been connected with an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, according to a previous study.
The relationship between a worse quality maternal diet, high in items associated with inflammation, and lower levels of fat-free body mass in late childhood was greater in males than in girls. The relationship between a worse quality maternal diet, high in items associated with inflammation, and greater levels of body fat at mid-childhood was stronger in girls than in boys.
“We hypothesize that a worse quality maternal diet, rich in items linked with inflammation, may similarly produce epigenetic alterations, and this may raise the likelihood of children developing obesity or extra body fat in later childhood. According to the study’s primary author Catherine Phillips, supporting a balanced diet during pregnancy that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in refined carbs and red and processed meats may help avoid juvenile obesity.
The authors suggest that the observational aspect of the study precludes drawing causal implications between maternal nutrition and juvenile obesity and excessive body fat. According to the authors, future studies should account in greater detail for other factors that may impact the risk of childhood obesity, such as physical activity and food.