Low-quality maternal diet during pregnancy may be linked with late-childhood obesity

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  • Consuming poor quality food during pregnancy increases the chances of the child becoming obese
  • Children from mothers who ate better food during pregnancy displayed a lower rate of late-childhood overweight and obesity
  • South Africa needs a social grant for pregnant mothers to access healthy food

Eating a low-quality diet during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of obesity and excess body fat in children, especially during late-childhood, a new study has found.

The research published in BMC Medicine investigated whether inflammation caused by a poor diet can influence childhood obesity.

Collecting the data 

To determine the link between maternal diet and the likelihood of childhood obesity, researchers analysed data collected from 16 295 mother-child pairs from Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Poland.

The average age of the mothers was 30 and they had a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). The pregnant women reported on their diet at different maternal stages: pre-, early-, late-, and whole-pregnancy.

The researchers then assessed the quality of the mothers' diet and noted whether the diets were high in good quality foods. They also noted their intake of food components associated with chronic inflammation, such as saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and red and processed meat.

The children’s BMIs were calculated and recorded in early, mid and late childhood. Their body composition was also noted during these stages.

The revelation 

The findings of the study show that children born to mothers who ate better quality food during pregnancy were associated with a lower chance of late-childhood overweight and obesity.

“Obesity in childhood often carries on into adulthood and is associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. 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,” says author Ling-Wei Chen in a press release.

The association between lower quality maternal diet, high in inflammation-associated foods, and higher body fat levels in mid-childhood was found to be stronger in girls than in boys.

Combating intergenerational obesity  

The recently released Child Gauge report 2020 states that the fact that many pregnant women in South Africa do not have access to proper food security contributes to their children being stunted or obese later in their lives.

The report also states that poor nutrition in pregnant women drives intergenerational obesity and non-communicable diseases risk. 

In order to deal with childhood obesity, the experts recommend that South Africa’s maternal health should be scaled up. This should involve promoting healthy eating guidance before and during pregnancy; keeping abreast of nutrition science and developments to inform policy and programmes; and helping pregnant women to access healthy foods.

READ| Food systems need to change to promote healthy choices and combat obesity 

READ| You are what you ate - as a child

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