Dieting during pregnancy increases offspring’s risk of schizophrenia

13 March 2017

Women who follow a diet during their pregnancy are putting their babies at risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, a new study has warned.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm found that mothers-to-be who failed to put on the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy were 30 per cent more likely to have children who develop the mental illness during adolescence. This need to eat healthy, they claim, is partly down to the pressure celebrities put out to ‘snap back’ after giving birth.

Over half a million (526,042) people born between 1982 and 1989 were monitored and followed into adulthood thanks to Sweden’s extensive health and population registers. Almost 3,000 of these individuals went on to be diagnosed with non-affective psychoses, or schizophrenia, with a link found between serious mental illness and gestational weight gain below the medical recommendations.

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) outlines between 22lbs(9kg)  and 27lbs( 12kg) as the average weight gain for non-overweight women, though states anything up to 35lbs(35kg) is normal.

“Extremely low weight gain during pregnancy – less than 18 lb(8kg) for normal-weight women – was associated with a 30 per cent increased risk of offspring with non-affective psychoses, compared to women who gained the recommended amount of weight for their body type,” lead author Euan Mackay explained.

“The results were similar regardless of whether women had started pregnancy with larger or smaller body types.”

Assistant Professor Renee Gardner, of Karolinska’s Department of Public Health Sciences, also noted the impact of societal pressures on pregnant women, giving them the impression that they must be in good shape even when with child.

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Sir Robin Murray, Professor of Psychiatric Research at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, stresses that this shouldn’t encourage pregnant women to indulge too much though, adding: “This does not mean pregnant women should overeat, and the advice remains the same: eat a balanced diet and keep healthy during pregnancy, take folic acid, and don’t smoke tobacco or use illicit drugs.”

Murray also pointed out that child abuse and “adverse life events” also contribute to schizophrenia, a condition in which the sufferer isn’t always able to distinguish their own outlook from reality.

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